Madison Zavasky, Cate Gentile return to lead Pine-Richland girls in quest for playoff success

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Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Positive progress was the theme for Pine-Richland girls basketball in Gabby Baldasare’s first season as coach.

The Rams made the playoffs for the first time on merit since 2017-18 and finished in a tie for third in the Section 1-6A standings.

With IUP recruit Madison Zavasky back to lead the way, the Rams want to take another step forward.

“That’s the plan,” Baldasare said. “We’re looking to roll a little further in the playoffs this year now that we have more experience.”

Pine-Richland finished 11-12 overall and lost to North Allegheny in the first round of the playoffs. It was the third meeting between the two schools.

Zavasky is the team’s lone senior and one of two returning starters, along with sophomore Cate Gentile.

Sarah Pifer and Catrina Knox graduated and another starter from last year, junior Katie Pifer, is out for the season because of a knee injury sustained in the summer.

Zavasky broke out as one of the top scorers in the WPIAL, averaging around 20 points per game, while Gentile started every game as a freshman.

Both will be counted upon to pace the Rams.

“We’re all expecting Madison to have a great senior year and build off what she did last year,” Baldasare said. “Fortunately, she has Cate and some other really talented girls around her to take some of the pressure off. Cate has really grown into a leadership role. She’s kind of the extension of the coaching staff on the floor. I think she’s going to have a big season. She’s a great kid on and off the court.”

Outside of Zavasky the Rams will be young in terms of age, but do have some varsity experience.

Maren Iski, a junior, will slot into the lineup. Iski is a runner on Pine-Richland’s cross country team. Aubree Bennett saw time as a freshman last year.

There’s also an incoming freshman, Zoe Cook, who has shown potential and impressed the coaching staff.

“Maren is probably the one that flies under the radar the most,” Baldasare said. “She does all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. She gets her hands on everything, works really hard and never looks tired. She’s definitely earned and solidified her starting spot.

“Aubree played some minutes for us last year and is a tough kid, both physically and mentally. Zoe Cook is super athletic, long, can play inside or outside, can get to the rim, defend, get out in transition and is great in a press. We’re excited for her too.”

The Rams will make their debut in Pine-Richland’s newly renovated gymnasium Dec. 11 when they host Avonworth. They’ve already been enjoying their new digs during practices.

“It’s nicer than the gym I played in at college,” Baldasare said. “I know the girls are enjoying it. We’re big on playing music at practice and the speaker system is great. We’re really grateful for the opportunity to play in such a beautiful gym.”

Pine-Richland is in Section 1-6A with North Allegheny, Norwin, Butler, Hempfield and Seneca Valley. North Allegheny and Norwin are perennial WPIAL title contenders and the Rams are looking forward to the challenge of competing against them.

“Norwin is returning pretty much everybody and NA is always good,” Baldasare said. “Everyone’s good. It’s a competitive section, and that’s why we play a difficult nonconference schedule to get ready for it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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