Libertore leads a more balanced Hempfield girls basketball team

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Saturday, November 23, 2019 | 7:36 PM


Hempfield has a player it can lean on in senior Sarah Liberatore.

But to win in a difficult Section 2-6A, the Spartans are going to come at teams with all five players on the floor.

The Spartans enter this season with an even mix of experience and youth, and coach Tom Brush wants to see his players overcome their lack of size with quick, aggressive play to try and keep opponents on their heels.

“I mean, unless we all grow in the next two weeks, our biggest weakness is going to be that we’re small,” Brush said with a laugh. “What we want to do is be aggressive on defense and make it a fast-paced game while keeping ourselves under control. … Whatever ‘D’ we play — zone, man, press — it’s got to be all five players flying around with the same intensity.”

However, Hempfield does have a weapon unlike most of their opponents in Liberatore.

The 5-foot-10 senior averaged 17.3 points last season and was the only first-team all-section pick not from Peters Township or Bethel Park, the top two teams in the section. That will make Liberatore the focal point for most opponents, but she seems unfazed by the challenge.

“My expectation for myself is to be a leader in a way that can help our team in any way possible,” Liberatore said. “I think I’m naturally a quiet, lead-by-example person, but I’m definitely going to try to pick the girls up and be as vocal as possible.”

Brush said: “She’s an extremely talented player but also a very good leader. She pushes the other girls to get better in practice and in games, and she’s been a varsity player for four years.”

Also back in the starting lineup is 5-6 junior Emma Hoffner, a player Brush praised for doing the “dirty work,” especially when assigned to guard taller post players. Hoffner was Hempfield’s third-leading scorer last season at just under nine points per game.

Moving into a starting role will be 5-4 senior guard Olivia Persin, who a season ago was the team’s first player off the bench. Being in the first five won’t be the only change to her responsibilities.

“She’s a tremendous defender, tremendous hustle player, and we know she’ll do a good job defending,” Brush said. “But this year, we’re going to need a little more from her scoring.”

Beyond those three are players with limited, if any, varsity experience. Senior forward Lindsay Gray and junior guard Kelsi Terzolino are two players who will see much more than spot duty, and sophomore guard Capri DeCaro and freshman guard/forward Brooke McCoy will be among those thrust into the spotlight.

“Every team gets better throughout the year, but we’re trying to get everyone ready this preseason so that everyone’s prepared,” Liberatore said. “I’m really confident in everyone on the team, that we can all come together and play as one.”

Without a dominant post presence, the Spartans are going to have to put plenty of focus on team rebounding.

Scoring also will require many players to contribute, especially if defenses throw multiple defenders at Liberatore.

“We have to improve each day we have the ball in our hands,” Brush said. “I want us to be really extraordinary with the ordinary things, whether that’s boxing out or making good passes.”

But as those aspects of the game develop, Hempfield goes into this season hoping to make defense its calling card.

“The biggest thing for us is, defensively, can we shut down teams?” Liberatore said. “If we’re communicating and prepared, I think we can compete with anybody. I’m not afraid of any team in the section, and I love a challenge. So do my teammates.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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