Latrobe girls basketball team maintains work ethic

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Monday, November 21, 2022 | 6:41 PM


Despite a two-year run of success that has produced a a pair of section titles, a run to the WPIAL semifinals and its first PIAA playoff berth since 1999, the Latrobe girls basketball team is not expecting any handouts.

Even with four starters back, the Wildcats know they have to do a lot more than just show up.

“We have more confidence in ourselves, but we have to keep working hard,” said senior 6-foot-1 forward Emma Blair, the reigning Trib Westmoreland player of the year and a South Carolina Upstate commit. “We know it’s not going to be easy.”

Latrobe reached the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals a year after playing in the semis for the first time since 1998.

The Wildcats lost to eventual champion South Fayette last winter to finish 18-5.

Even with the graduation of standout forward Anna Rafferty (IUP) and point guard Bailey Watson, the Wildcats bring back four starters in Blair, 6-foot senior Camille Dominick (a Pitt-Johnstown commit), junior point guard Elle Snyder and senior forward Josie Straigis.

“If we don’t win the section, that doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment,” coach Mark Burkhardt said. “We need to get healthy, get our point guard figured out and get our top eight in place. We’ll see what happens from there.”

Snyder will miss the early part of the season with an ankle injury she suffered during volleyball season.

“We lost Anna last year for a few games, and we had some girls out for covid,” Burkhardt said. “Even with all of that, we hung on and won the section.”

Sophomore Carley Berk and junior Belle Blossey are competing for the point guard spot until Snyder returns.

Latrobe had a healthy group together in June for a team camp in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Burkhardt hopes to have a similarly regular rotation for a new Section 3 that includes Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, McKeesport, Oakland Catholic, Penn-Trafford and Thomas Jefferson.

“We play McKeesport and Oakland Catholic back-to-back right before Christmas,” Burkhardt said. “This is going to be a tough section. Every team made the playoffs last year. That should be something that motivates our girls.”

Rafferty and Blair, both four-year starters, won the last two Trib player of the year awards. Last year, Blair averaged 13.6 points and 12.5 rebounds.

“We want to go farther than we did before,” Blair said.

Blair has 673 points and 684 rebounds in her career.

“We expect no less from Emma than what’s she’s done,” Burkhardt said. “She’ll probably draw the (other teams’) biggest person or best defender.”

That means players like Dominick, an underrated combo-guard, will be counted on much more on both ends.

“She can do a lot for us,” Burkhardt said. “She can shoot it. We’re going to play faster.”

Though Latrobe has developed a reputation for being a post-up team with its consistent run of size, the Wildcats have shooters, too.

Snyder also is a perimeter threat. Still, Burkhardt prefers the more high-percentage shots.

“Everyone falls in love with that (3-point) line,” he said. “I’m a dinosaur. Call me crazy, I’m OK with a two-point layup.

“We’ll play to our strengths. If it isn’t broken, we’re not trying to fix it.”

Straigis, a Bloomsburg softball commit, started when Rafferty was out last year, so she gained valuable experience.

Other players looking to contribute to a rotation that could go eight or nine deep are sophomore guard Brylee Bodnar, sophomore forward Addison Toy and senior guard Paitlyn Bauer.

Latrobe’s nonsection schedule won’t skimp on competition. It includes Norwin, Indiana, Penn Hills, and Hempfield.

At a glance

Coach: Mark Burkhardt

Last year’s record: 18-5 (11-1 Section 4-5A)

Returning starters: Emma Blair (Sr., F), Camille Dominick (Sr., G/F), Elle Snyder (Jr., G), Josie Straigis (Sr., F)

Top newcomers: Paitlyn Bauer (Sr., G), Belle Blossey (Jr., G), Carley Berk (So., G), Brylee Bodnar (So., G), Addison Toy (So., F)

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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