Highlands girls basketball team looks to build off trip to state playoffs

Sunday, November 19, 2023 | 4:36 PM

It was quite the season for Highlands girls basketball last year.

A trip to the WPIAL semifinals and clinching a spot in the state playoffs were highlights in a major leap forward.

With four returning starters, the goal is to make the 2023-24 campaign a special one.

“We just want to keep the momentum we started last year,” Highlands coach Shawn Bennis said. “It was the first time they experienced the longevity and grind of making it to the state playoffs. Understanding that and getting that experience is important.”

The four returning starters are Kalleigh Nerone, Jocelyn Bielak, Kate Myers and Shelby Wojcik. All four are seniors. Myers is a Pitt-Johnstown recruit, Bielak is headed to Pitt-Greensburg, Nerone has interest from colleges and recently visited Bloomsburg and Wojcik is entering her third year as a starter.

“It’s a great group of girls,” Bennis said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had that many players going to play the next level at one time. They’ve really worked hard to get where they are and want their senior year to be special. I can’t say enough about their dedication, effort and commitment.”

Other experienced players returning include seniors Zoey Celko, Casey Tierbery, junior Tyarah Woody and sophomore Bella Bonnett. All four will contribute whether it’s as the fifth starter or off the bench.

Highlands will begin its season with a trip to the Freeport tip-off tournament for matchups against Plum and Fox Chapel. The Golden Rams also will host their annual holiday tournament Dec. 27-28 with Baldwin, Mars and North Hills.

A major goal for Highlands is to win a section title, something that has eluded the program for a long time.

“We haven’t won a section title since 1975, so that’s always at the front of our minds,” Bennis said. “We mention that at practice continuously that we’re striving to win it, get in the playoffs and see what happens from there.”

To do so, they’ll have to knock off perennial power North Catholic. The Golden Rams lost to the Trojanettes three times last year, including in the WPIAL semifinals. The first meeting between the two is Dec. 14 at Highlands, and the second one is Jan. 18 at North Catholic.

Knoch, Greensburg Salem, Freeport, Derry and Valley also are in Section 1-4A with Highlands.

“Until somebody knocks North Catholic off, they are the section favorites,” Bennis said. “I expect Greensburg Salem to be a tough out again. They are well-coached and have some returning players. We played two pretty tough games with them last year.”

Highlands girls at a glance

Coach: Shawn Bennis

Last year’s record: 16-10 (9-3 Section 1-4A)

Returning starters: Kalleigh Nerone (Sr., G), Jocelyn Bielak (Sr., F), Kate Myers (Sr., G), Shelby Wojcik (Sr., G)

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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