Powerful Obama Academy ready for challenge from scrappy Allderdice in City League girls title game

Saturday, February 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Obama Academy girls basketball coach Monique McCoy has stressed to her team nothing will be easy against Allderdice in the City League championship game Sunday at UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.

The Eagles have dominated the Dragons over the past three seasons, winning seven consecutive games, six of which were by double figures. Obama Academy (16-4) has won the two meetings by a combined 77 points this season.

McCoy, who attended Allderdice’s win over Westinghouse in the semifinals, has seen the growth with the Dragons. Allderdice and Obama have been frequent dance partners in the playoffs, meeting in the title game in seven of the past 10 seasons.

“Every time you play a team, it becomes harder to beat them,” McCoy said. “I take nothing to chance. We know we have to work hard. They are young but have spunk and are fiery and don’t give up.”

The Eagles aren’t a team people should discount. Obama, which beat Allderdice, 58-40, in the title game last season to claim their fifth crown since the school opened in 2011-12, once again ran the table in the City League this season.

Taylor Phillips, a 5-foot-8 guard, leads the Eagles in scoring with 15 points per game. Obama couples the scoring of Phillips with a lineup full of versatile players. Forward Kimaya Williams (5-9), forward Keliyah Payne (5-9), guard Gionna Simmons (5-8), center Zahara Elsmahy (5-11) and guard Ny’Asia Benton (5-8) all give the Eagles solid size.

“We need to control the boards with our height,” McCoy said. “We have to make sure that we guard them well at the 3-point line. Allderdice is proficient from the 3-point line. We need to make sure we keep our hands up.”

One thing the Dragons (11-11) won’t be able to counter with is size. Allderdice has plenty of toughness, something the Dragons’ players developed from being undersized. Bailey White, a 5-3 freshman guard, is averaging 16.3 points per game.

She isn’t one to back down, suffering a nose injury after bumping heads during a pickup basketball game with her cross country teammates last fall.

Adjusting to playing varsity lineup — on an Allderdice team that plays three freshmen and two sophomores — provided similar growing pains.

“It was difficult at first,” White said. “As the season came along, we got more comfortable and became better as a team.”

Toughness is something that the Dragons have collectively developed. Freshmen guards Gabi Kunzman, who is 5-0, and Niki Sfanos, 5-4, are also smaller guards in the starting lineup. Sophomore forward Noriagya Warren, who is the Dragons’ tallest starter at 5-7, and fellow sophomore forward Jaionna Simpson, a 5-5 forward, fill out the starting lineup.

White believes Allderdice can learn from previous matchups to give Obama a tougher test. She knows it won’t be easy.

“They have seniors and a lot of bigger players,” White said. “That gives them an advantage.”

While having a smaller team isn’t ideal for Allderdice coach Ellen Guillard, feeling the pull of being a self-described “elder millennial” at 38, she sometimes has a hard time relating to Tik Tok, Spongebob and Bluey.

She does understand what it’s like to be undersized at her position on the basketball floor. Guillard, who played professionally in England after starring at Duquesne and Albert Gallatin, had varsity experience as an underclassman.

“I played on varsity but never played on JV,” Guillard said. “I was always small for my position. I know what the obstacles are like. We have to play with a lot of heart.”

Guillard knows for Allderdice to compete, its young lineup will have to lean on its speed and try to capitalize in transition.

“Playing against them is tough,” Guillard said. “They are always the opposite of us. They have bigger bodies and a strong dominant post. We are tiny, but mighty.”

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