Freshmen making impact all over A-K Valley girls basketball scene

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 | 7:03 PM

From the first game of this season, Nina Shaw was a focal point of the gameplan for the Knoch girls basketball team.

The freshman point guard was slowed by a concussion, which cost her a couple of games, but she returned and has helped keep the Knights entrenched in the WPIAL playoff chase in Section 1-4A.

“Growing up, I was always a point guard, so coming into this season, I knew what my expectations had to be,” said Shaw, who scored a season-high 15 points in Monday’s 62-43 win over Indiana. “At first, I was getting to know the team and my role better. As the games went on, I became more comfortable.”

Freeport’s Melaina Dezort, a 5-foot-8 freshman guard, is averaging 8.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a contest for a Yellowjackets squad that had won five in a row heading into Wednesday’s nonsection game against Armstrong. She earned starting time over her team’s first 14 games and owned six double-digit scoring efforts.

“I knew we would get some contribution from her. To what extent, I didn’t know at first,” Freeport coach Fred Soilis said. “She’s such a hard worker at what she does, and that is an example of how to approach the game, no matter what grade you are in. She has a high motor.”

Shaw and Dezort are just two of several Alle-Kiski Valley freshmen who hope to continue to make their mark in a quick jump from the junior high ranks to the faster pace of varsity play.

Elsie Smith, a 6-foot-1 forward, has helped Fox Chapel, winners of four of its last five section games and five of six overall, solidify its playoff positioning in Section 1-6A.

She scored 12 points and added 10 rebounds in a key 56-51 victory over Butler last week. She hit two free throws to put the Foxes up three with 10 seconds left.

“She’s been the first player off the bench, but she’s also started when (junior forward) Ellie (Schwartzman) has been hurt,” Foxes coach Marty Matvey said. “She has the height and can play well inside, but she moves her feet like a guard and can shoot well from several spots.”

Dannika Susko, a 6-1 forward, fit right away in the starting plans of a Plum team at the top of the Section 2-5A standings (10-4, 6-1) and hoping to win its first-ever section crown.

Mustangs coach Steve Elsier said Susko has made her mark at both ends of the court.

“She gives us good length on the inside with strong rebounding,” he said. “She’s a really good athlete who is talented in multiple sports. She’s very coachable and is always looking for ways to get better.”

Apollo-Ridge coach Mike Monstrola said he likes the way guard Brinley Toland has developed as a starter in her young varsity career as the Vikings stay in contention in Section 1-4A (8-7, 4-5).

“It took her a couple of games to get comfortable with the speed of the game,” Monstrola said. “We threw her into the fire, and we told her that some things were going to go her way and some things weren’t. She’s slowed the game down and is letting things develop.”

Lexi Colaianni was expected to be a contributor for Kiski Area, but she was thrust into a larger role when senior captain, all-star and leader scorer Hannah Potter was lost for the season with a broken wrist suffered in the season opener.

“Lexi’s improved every single game, whether it’s handling the ball or her ability to deal with pressure,” Kiski coach Nick Dizon said. “Her scoring (9.6 ppg.) has become more consistent. I am happy with her progress.”

Valley might be struggling in terms of wins and losses (1-16, 0-9 Section 3-3A) but coach Ernie Sipolino said Jada Norman and Tori Johnson are producing against all competition.

Norman, a forward, is averaging 17.8 rebounds , and Sipolino said she hopes to chase her mother’s all-time Valley rebounding record (880). Tonya Pryor-Norman starred for the Vikings before a standout career at Duquesne.

Johnson, a point guard, is averaging 14 points a game.

“They’ve both made big strides with handling the speed and physicality of the game at this level,” Sipolino said.

Riley Sterlitz and Addy Landowski, both forwards, are averaging eight rebounds apiece for a young Burrell squad with no seniors and 15 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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