Penn-Trafford’s young girls basketball roster arrives in state playoffs ahead of schedule

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Wednesday, March 8, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Two sophomores, one junior, one senior and one freshman.

A small, eighth-period study hall?

No. It is the Penn-Trafford girls basketball team’s starting five.

“Our young kids have been in some big games and have really played well for us,” coach John Giannikas said. “They’re growing up fast.”

They’re going to have to: Penn-Trafford (17-9) has qualified for the PIAA Class 5A playoffs, perhaps ahead of schedule in the eyes of some.

Not those of the Warriors, though, who secured their first state-playoff spot since 2013-14 with a 49-44 win over Hampton in last week’s seventh-place game.

They lost to top-seeded South Fayette (70-49) in the first round then fell to No. 4 Trinity (62-59) in a first-round consolation before holding off Hampton.

“It was exciting knowing we had an opportunity to get into states,” sophomore forward Lauren Marton said. “The way I see it, we are surpassing expectations.”

The next opponent is District 3 champion Greencastle-Antrim (23-1) in Saturday’s first round. The 4 p.m. game will be played at Greencastle-Antrim, about a three-hour drive from Harrison City.

The Warriors’ roster has two seniors in forward Lilly Palladino and Kylee Piconi, but both have been out of the lineup of late.

Piconi is done for the season after ACL surgery, while Palladino missed two recent games with a concussion.

“We have had girls step up,” Giannikas said. “They came in and were ready to go. They have been competing their butts off. We’ve been able to go about eight deep (off the bench). These girls are just tough.”

Top scorer Olivia Pepple is the lone junior, although she plays like a seasoned senior in big moments. She had 11 points in the fourth quarter against Hampton.

“We started out slow in the second half and (Hampton) took advantage of us,” Pepple said. “We need to take better care of the ball and double down for states. We have a young team, but we need to keep our composure.”

The 5-foot-11 Marton leads a talented crop of eight sophomores that also includes 5-11 forward Kamryn Pieper and guard Bella Klobucar.

Tori DeStefano is the top freshman in a batch of six. She brings a contagious rugby grit to a team that likes to shoot 3-pointers but seems to enjoy driving the lane more.

“She is physical and wants to beat you,” Giannikas said. “She gets that determined look on her face.”

Intrepid 5-1 guard Annabelle Aquino in another ninth grader who provides big minutes.

Another freshman, Hannah Weishaar, sees time off the bench.

“The underclassmen have grown a lot, not only from last year to this year, but the freshmen have learned to step up throughout the season,” Pepple said. “With all the injuries we’ve been suffering from, we told them that we were going to need people to step up and make plays, and they didn’t fail us.”

Perhaps Aquino best embodies the Warriors with her diminutive frame and oversized uniform.

Players grow into their gear — and their roles.

“Deceiving” is the word Giannikas used to describe Aquino. That label seems to fit the group.

“I’ve never had a team this young go this far,” Giannikas said. “We’ve had teams with one senior before, but there were a lot of juniors.

“The last couple games, our young girls have played well for us. That could go a long way for this year and for the future.”

Marton said the quick maturation process is a product of team chemistry.

“We all get each other fired up,” she said. “We believe in each other as a whole. I think we can make a run in states.”

The WPIAL brought back play-back games this year for the state playoffs and did away with the long-used follow-the-winner format.

Teams like the Warriors not only got to earn a spot in the PIAA bracket, but they also got an extra home game.

“I like it,” Giannikas said of the consolation bracket. “There is less waiting around. Instead of sitting around for weeks, it’s one.

“We can use the time to rest up a little bit.”

Even young bones can feel the effects of a long basketball season.

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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