Impact players made season successful for PIHL girls league runners-up

Saturday, June 25, 2022 | 11:01 AM

The inaugural season of the highly anticipated PIHL girls division has been completed. One of the top squads in the league was Team Central, which finished as PIHL runner-up with an 8-4 record.

Coached by RMU youth hockey coordinator Joe Cummings, the Central girls won six of seven regular-season games including five in a row and took a 7-3 record into the playoffs.

After skating by Southeast, 3-2, in its first postseason game, Central lost to East, 2-1, in the championship round. Both contests went into overtime.

“Our girls played great from the very start of our practices,” Cummings said. “The girls got along very well. We had some really good leadership on the team. One of the easiest decisions the coaching staff had to make was who our captain should be.”

Jill Piscitelli, a junior defender from Thomas Jefferson, was named captain while Avonworth’s Audrey Monro-Neely, a junior forward, and Hampton’s Kaylee Lazaro, a sophomore defender, served as assistant captains.

“Jill is a natural leader and did a great job as our captain,” Cummings said. “Jill has the right personality of a captain. She is friendly, articulate, empathetic and humble. In our first couple of practices, she was always first in line for drills and was encouraging the other players. And she is a pretty good hockey player.”

Piscitelli has a 4.2 GPA and is involved in several clubs in high school including the National Honor Society, TJ vs. Cancer and Big Jag Little Cub.

“I’ve starting volunteering at the South Hills Miracle Field,” Piscitelli said. “And I intend to (be) on the bench to help coach a U10 girls hockey team.”

Piscitelli embraced her duties as Central’s inaugural team captain.

“My role was to be a leader, motivate everyone to work hard and keep a positive attitude among the team,” she said.

Piscitelli is a natural athlete who accounted for two goals and two assists as a defensive specialist this season.

“Growing up, I’ve played about every sport,” she said, “but hockey is the one that stuck with me. I’m extremely proud to have been a part of the Central team and think we had a great season.”

Piscitelli said it was a career highlight to be a trailblazer on the ice.

“The PIHL league was an amazing experience and milestone for girls hockey,” she said. “It was the perfect outlet for girls to play in a competitive league while supporting their schools. I enjoyed playing against some of my closest friends and other old teammates that I have played with throughout the years.

“I wish this league started when I was a freshman because I enjoyed every second. I absolutely loved my team and my coaches. Even though most of us just met, my team connected very well and that definitely benefited us on the ice.”

Team Central was comprised of players from TJ, Baldwin, Avonworth, Bentworth, Hampton, Pine-Richland and North Hills.

Braidee Blackburn, a freshman from Bentworth, stood tall in the net all year as the team’s starting goaltender.

“Our goalie was great for us all season and especially in the playoffs, coming up with some big saves to keep us in the game,” Cummings said.

During the regular season, Blackburn stopped 216 of 237 shots to log a 2.09 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. In the two playoff games, she turned it up a notch by allowing four goals on 47 shots for a 1.73 GAA and .915 save percentage.

“Braidee has been a goaltender on one of my teams for a few seasons,” Cummings said. “She played for the team that beat my team in the PAHL championship game five years ago, and I told her parents after that game that I wanted her to play for me.

“Braidee is very athletic and has good vision of the ice. She is a great communicator and has a great hockey IQ. She is always ready for a challenge and can quickly bounce back from an error.”

Delaney Howard, a freshman forward from Baldwin, was Central’s leading scorer with 13 goals and eight assists, good for 21 points.

“I don’t know any coach who would not want someone like Delaney on their team,” said Cummings, who was assisted by Steve Broskey and Howard Smith this season. “As a hockey player, she is a fast, strong skater, has good hockey IQ and has a great shot. As a teammate, she is supportive of all of the players and is very humble. I never heard her talk down to or about any teammates. It was always ‘we.’”

The energetic Howard said it was awe-inspiring be able to compete in the PIHL girls division.

“I think it was amazing being able to play in the inaugural season,” she said. “And it was amazing to be able to start the league for the upcoming girls hockey players. There were so many little girls at all of our games, and it was so cool to be able to set an example and for them be excited to come watch us play.

“It was such a great season, too. We competed well with the other teams, and I was really happy to be able to make it to the championship game. We competed well but unfortunately fell short in overtime.”

Howard was the second-leading scorer in the league during the regular season, and with her three goals in the playoffs became the league’s overall leading point-producer.

“I also think it was really cool that I scored the first and last goal for Team Central,” Howard said. “I am beyond excited to play next year and the rest of my high school career.”

Monro-Neeley ended up with nine goals and three assists for Central while forward Brooklyn Joyce, a freshman forward from TJ, had a pair of fives (five goals, five assists).

“I feel one of our (team) weaknesses was that we relied on Delaney a little too much,” Cummings said, “and it showed in the championship game.”

Team West captured the league’s regular-season title with a 10-0 record and was followed in the standings by Central (7-3), North (5-4-0-1), East (5-5), Southwest (3-6-0-1) and Southeast (0-5-0-5).

Bethel Park senior Cameran Evans, a forward on the Southwest squad, led the league in scoring in the regular season 21 points, netting 13 goals and tacking on six assists.

Team East surprised more than a few people in the playoffs, edging Southwest, 2-1, West, 5-4, and Central to claim the league championship.

East goaltender Corinne Brunetto, a Latrobe sophomore, stopped 126 of 132 shots in the playoffs for a 1.57 GAA and .955 save percentage.

“East’s secret weapon was their goalie,” Cummings said. “She made over 100 saves in the three wins.”

It appears it was smooth sailing for the teams, coaches and players in what is hoped to be the initial season of the PIHL girls division.

“I feel it was a huge success,” Cummings said. “The competition level was great with a majority of the games being a one-goal game. And the girls had fun. It was really neat to see all of the socialization after the handshakes.

“These games demonstrated exactly what youth sports should be — competitions, not wars. I was told there are definitely plans (for a girls league) for next season.

A 2023 season undoubtedly can’t arrive soon enough for the players and coaches.

”Hopefully, our team will stay together,” Cummings said. “However, with the forecasted growth of the league, some of the teams may change.

“I have a few players that will be student coaches for my little girls teams (10U, 12U, Arctic Foxes) this season. It is great to see the older girls giving back to the sport.”

Rounding out the roster on Team Central were Baldwin junior Evelyn Wright and freshman Magnolia Overn, Avonworth senior Mya Hennigan and sophomore Poppy Acheson, Pine-Richland freshman Sophia Scatena and sophomore Abigail Dille, Hampton junior Erica Gynn and freshman Danica Gynn, Bentworth junior Paytyn Blackburn and North Hills sophomore Julia Yeloushan.

Piscitelli, speaking perhaps on behalf of the majority of girls in the league, was grateful to be able to play in the inaugural PIHL season.

“I am so thankful for the experiences and friendships this league has granted me,” she said.

“I cannot wait to see what the future holds for PIHL girls hockey.”

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