Girls basketball preview: Latrobe loaded with veteran talent

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Monday, November 30, 2020 | 8:09 PM


The 2021 senior class at Latrobe includes four girls basketball players who represent the first group to play the sport at the seventh-grade level when the current coaching staff, led by sixth-year coach Mark Burkhardt, took over the program in 2015.

As a result, Latrobe’s varsity roster is loaded with experienced players who are familiar with Burkhardt’s scheme.

“We have depth. We’re very versatile, and we have great senior leadership,” Burkhardt said. “We had no seniors last year, so, basically, they learned to be leaders as juniors.”

Eight letterwinners return to the Class 5A Wildcats, who are hopeful of making a big improvement on last season’s 12-10 record, which included a 7-7 mark in Section 3.

They will be in Section 4 with Franklin Regional, Gateway, Greensburg Salem, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.

All five starters are among the eight returnees, including three of those seniors: guards Rachel Ridilla, Ava Vitula and Lexi Weatherton.

Junior Anna Rafferty, a 6-foot-2 forward, who is getting Division I attention; and 6-1 sophomore forward Emma Blair, who averaged 9.3 points and 10 rebounds while leading Latrobe in minutes played as a freshman, round out the team’s returning starters.

The other veteran players coming back are senior guard/forward Alexis McNeil, a part-time starter last season; junior guard Bailey Watson and 6-0 sophomore forward Camille Dominick.

“I’m expecting us to compete every night,” Burkhardt said. “We’ve beaten a lot of these teams in the past or we’ve at least played them close. Hopefully, the difference will be that we’re more mentally mature with another whole year of experience.”

Burkhardt predicted a regular rotation that could include as many as 11 players. Junior guard/forward Lizzie Planinsek and freshmen guards Cara Dupilka and Ellie Snyder also could factor into the plan.

Rafferty, who has gained interest from Kennesaw State and Army among others, last season led Latrobe in scoring and rebounding at 12.6 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Ridilla (10.2 ppg.) was the team’s second-leading scorer.

“Rachel Ridilla has had some offers to play college basketball, but she’s decided against it,” Burkhardt said. “But I’m expecting a lot out of her. She’s the best shooter we’ve coached since I’ve been here. That’s why we’ll have some inside-out versatility with her and Rafferty working together.”

Burkhardt said Latrobe’s versatility goes beyond that.

“We can play big, small, fast, slow,” he said.

Weatherton enters her second season at point guard, and Burkhardt said the 5-4 senior is improving with each workout.

“She’s played every game as a freshman and sophomore,” he said. “This will be her second year starting at the point, and she’s learned a tremendous amount about running the show. She’s improved greatly as far as her decision-making goes.”

McNeil is the team’s “lockdown defender,” Burkhardt said.

“We’ve always used her on the other team’s best players,” he said.

Vitula, who last season averaged 6.2 points, also comes in having played in every game as a freshman and sophomore. Burkhardt said she again is expected to complement the sharp-shooting Ridilla with some of her own pinpoint shots.

“This is a very versatile team,” Burkhardt said, “but the section we’re in is the toughest I’ve seen. Let’s go to work.”

Latrobe girls at a glance

Coach: Mark Burkhardt

Last year’s record: 12-10 (7-7 Section 3-5A)

Returning starters: Emma Blair (So., F), Anna Rafferty (Jr., F), Rachel Ridilla (Sr., G), Ava Vitula (Sr., G), Lexi Weatherton (Sr., G)

Top newcomers: Cara Dupilka (Fr., G), Ellie Snyder (Fr., G)

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