Girls basketball preview: Numbers shouldn’t be a problem for St. Joseph this season

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Sunday, December 6, 2020 | 6:08 PM


The St. Joseph girls basketball team won just three games a year ago, but an opportunity to take part in the WPIAL Class A playoffs was a positive end to a season of growth for a team that lost just two to graduation.

“I think we played as good as we could play, and the returning girls improved all season,” said Dennis Jones, who enters his third year at the helm of the Spartans. “Towards the end of the season, the girls were understanding things a lot more.”

St. Joseph, which tied with Propel Andrew Street for fourth place in Section 3 at 3-7, lost to Sewickley Academy, 52-27, in the WPIAL first round. The Spartans were as close as 17-13 late in the first half before the Panthers went on a 33-0 run to seize control.

“We really played Sewickley Academy tough in the first half,” Jones said. “We just didn’t have enough depth to play with a team as good as them. The girls are using that as great motivation coming into this season.”

In addition to its results in section, 11 of St. Joseph’s 12 nonsection games last year were against teams from higher classifications, and of those 11, seven qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.

St. Joseph is slated to open its season Friday as the host of a tip-off tournament. Winchester Thurston, Neshannock and Mohawk also are set to compete.

Lower-than-desired numbers was an issue for the Spartans at times last year, but those numbers have improved with the combination of five returnees, a senior newcomer and a sizeable group of 12 freshman.

Jones said several of those freshmen are expected to immediately contribute in some capacity.

“With the freshmen, the team has almost tripled in size,” Jones said. “That gives us flexibility in practice. They haven’t played a varsity minute yet, so they will need some time to assimilate into the game at this level. They have to realize that eighth-grade basketball is not high school basketball, but, so far, they are stepping up and doing well.”

Junior guard Trinity Lockwood-Morris made an impact in her first year with St. Joseph after transferring from Obama Academy.

She led St. Joseph with 10 points in the playoff loss to Sewickley Academy, and her efforts throughout the season earned her Valley News Dispatch second-team all-star honors.

Joining Lockwood-Morris as returnees who earned starting time last year are senior Ally Swiercewski and juniors Stella Swanson and Kelly Wolfe.

Lockwood-Morris, Swiercewski and Swanson started the playoff game with graduates Erika Cook and Ava Swanson.

Also back with experience is senior Kelsey Duvall, who missed the early part of last season with an injury before coming back to contribute.

“The girls have been great in understanding that three or four of the freshmen are going to have to play varsity right away,” Jones said. “They’ve been great with their leadership in helping the younger girls along from the start of workouts and (preseason) practices.

“Things have been going as well as could be expected with all that’s been going on. The girls work hard every day because they don’t know what tomorrow might bring. They don’t know if they might not be allowed in the gym the next day.”

Kassandra O’Hara, who also plays softball for St. Joseph, joins the basketball team for her senior season.

Jones said a couple of scrimmages were canceled because of covid issues and safety concerns at area schools. He said he hopes his team will be able to take to the court Monday for a scrimmage against Cornell.

“It will be nice to see how we stack up against another team,” Jones said.

“I am not sure of the experience level of the Cornell players, but just playing someone else and seeing the girls in several game situations will be a good thing.”

St. Joseph returns to Section 3-A with last year’s section co-champion and WPIAL semifinalist Clairton, as well as Aquinas, Leechburg and Propel Andrew Street.

Section co-champion Greensburg Central Catholic has moved up to Class 2A, and Riverview joins the section after making the Class 2A playoffs last year.

“It should be an interesting year in the section,” Jones said, “and the girls are anxious to see how they will do.”

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

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