Penn-Trafford girls use tough defense, clutch shooting to get off to brilliant start

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Wednesday, December 28, 2022 | 11:01 AM


With nine games in the first 20 days of the season — seven of them on the road — the Penn-Trafford girls basketball team has had little time to reflect.

But with some down time over the holidays, the Warriors could step back and see what has produced an 8-1 record (7-0 away from home) and a 2-0 mark in Section 3-5A.

The road Warriors aren’t here to sightsee in their return to Class 5A.

“I’m really proud and happy for the players and what they’ve done so far,” coach John Giannikas said. “To win all seven road games says a lot about their toughness and ability to respond to adversity. We’ve played really good defense throughout the season, and, for the most part have done a nice job knocking down shots, especially at clutch times in the games.”

The emergence of a young group of guards has the team playing fast and loose. Size isn’t their prized trait, but they have shooters who are willing to share the basketball.

“These kids have played unselfish and do not care who gets the credit,” Giannikas said. “They just play and give 100% all game long.

“The kids have shown tremendous mental toughness as well.”

Junior Olivia Pepple is the go-to scorer, but she is developing an all-around game that is drawing the attention of colleges. Farleigh Dickinson has offered the 5-foot-9 guard a scholarship.

Pepple is averaging 19 points. In addition to a 3-point touch, she has developed a mid-range game and can get to the basket.

“The most impressive thing about it is she has been doing all of that basically on one good foot,” Giannikas said. “She is shooting 58% for 2-pointers and 48% from 3.”

Pepple said a team concept permeates the rotation.

“The team, so far, has done a lot of things well,” she said. “Every game, we go out and play hard, even if shots aren’t falling or things aren’t going our way. We always play hard for each other, and I think that’s why things have been going well so far for us.”

The Warriors are allowing just 39.1 points per game. Their lone loss was against Class 6A No. 1 Norwin, 48-38.

They have won six in a row since, including tough victories at Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and Kiski Area (in OT).

Sophomore 5-11 forward Lauren Marton is scoring 9 points per game, and sophomore 5-11 swing-forward Kam Pieper has an 8-point average. Both have provided a strong rebounding presence.

Senior Lilly Palladino, a Penn State Behrend commit, also scores 8 a game.

“Lilly knocked down some huge 3-pointers for us in the clutch, especially in OT at Kiski,” Giannikas said. “She is playing with so much confidence.”

Torrie Destafano (8 ppg), a 5-8 freshman guard, has found a role in the lineup, stepping up with 21 points against Peters Township when Pepple missed a game.

“Torrie has done a little bit of everything for us,” Giannikas said. “She has been outstanding defensively and just has a knack to make the big play at the right moment.”

Senor guard Kylee Piconi has missed some time with an ankle injury, but Giannikas hopes to have her back soon.

“She does a great job setting the other players up for their shots and communicates so well defensively for us,” Giannikas said.

The bench has lengthened in recent games. Freshmen Annabelle Aquino, Hannah Weishaar and Olivia Weishaar, as well as sophomores Bryana Bennett and Isabella Klobucar and Paige Temple have contributed minutes.

The season is still young, and section play will increase the competition level.

The Warriors host Thomas Jefferson (5-2) on Jan. 2, and a road test at No. 5 Oakland Catholic (6-2) awaits Jan. 9.

Games against No. 2 McKeesport and Latrobe will follow.

“All solid, talented and well-coached teams,” Giannikas said. “It will definitely be a challenge.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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