Signal Item girls basketball preview: Division I players give teams high hopes
Thursday, December 5, 2019 | 11:50 PM
The Carnegie-area girls basketball teams were 3-for-3 in playoff berths last season. Chartiers Valley topped the list, going undefeated (30-0) and winning WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A titles. Carlynton went 19-5 and advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals. Bishop Canevin (23-4) went undefeated in Section 3-2A and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and the second round of states.
They share another trait: Each has a Division I player on its roster.
Chartiers Valley has Duquesne commit Megan McConnell, in addition to D-I prospects Perri Page and Aislin Malcolm. Carlynton has Mount St. Mary’s commit Jada Lee, and Bishiop Canevin’s Diajha Allen will play at St. Francis (Pa.) next season.
With all of that going for them, the teams anticipate another strong season. A look at each:
Jim Kaczorowski has a long association with the school, mostly as a baseball coach but also as a boys basketball assistant. This season, he takes over the girls basketball team hoping to continue the program’s run of success, which includes WPIAL titles from 2016-18.
“I think the biggest problem we have right now is getting them used to our system,” said Kaczorowski, who was hired relatively late after previous coach Scott Dibble resigned in June. “Once they buy into the system, I think we’ll be fine.”
A big loss is Emma Theodorsson. A freshman who already had Division I offers last season, she transferred back to her home district, Moon.
That left Allen and Alyssa Pollice as the only returning starters. Kaczorowski expects Savannah Abbott and Rutanya Taylor, the Crusaders’ only juniors, to step into two of the starting spots, and the other spot remains in flux.
Allen will be tasked with leading the charge.
“She’s fantastic,” Kaczorowski said. “She’s not a big vocal leader, but she leads by example. If (the other players) emulate what she does, we’ll be well off.
“The two juniors have stepped up big time. They look really good.”
Among those who will be vying for the fifth spot are Erin Jameson, Ashley Lippold, Lauren Kirsch and Maura Pechin.
When Darian Robins took over last season, he sought to restore a winning culture. A WPIAL quarterfinals berth was a big step in the right direction.
But this season, Robins wants his players to be motivated not by their success but by what he considers to be their one glaring shortcoming.
Early last season, the Cougars dropped a home game to Derry, a .500 team in Section 3-3A. That loss ended up being the difference between second place and a share of the section title with Shady Side Academy.
“We’ve been talking about (a section title) since last year,” Robins said. “Whenever we get to the gym, we look at the section championship (banners), and we look at last year and how close we were.
“I told them, ‘Every time you think about resting, think about that one game that could have changed winning a section championship.’ ”
Lee, a 5-foot-7 senior who was named the Tribune-Review Class 3A Preseason Player of the Year, made sure her game was up to par for her final season, playing AAU ball and shooting 500 shots a day. She will be complemented by Angelicah Diallo, who will play at Penn State Beaver next season.
Between those two, offense shouldn’t be a problem for Carlynton. Defense is where Robins expects to see the biggest improvement.
“Last year, it was exciting,” Robins said. “A lot of them were riding the high of me coming in and changing things around. Now, they have their own identity. They’re a scrappy bunch. They’re going to be all over the ball.”
Lee and Diallo have plenty of help. Senior Haley Williams (5-11) and her sister, freshman Chloe (5-10), give the Cougars length. Guards Kendall Kline, a sophomore, and freshman Jada Adams provide 3-point capability.
“If everybody is healthy,” Robins said, “we have a great shot at WPIALs.”
Tim McConnell’s first season as the Colts girls coach looked a lot like his two decades-plus as their boys coach, when he won six WPIAL titles and made two PIAA finals. The girls delivered his first state title and taught the long-time coach a thing or two.
“I just learned the girls really want to be coached, and they listen a little better than the boys did,” he said. “I just enjoyed it. The girls really bought in and were excited about coming to practice every day.
“We’re hoping to have another long season, and I want them to be excited to be in the gym every night again.”
There won’t be many opponents excited to play the Colts, who boast three Division I players. Besides senior Megan McConnell, the Trib’s Class 5A Preseason Player of the Year, sophomores Page and Malcolm already have recruiters salivating.
Page, an athletic 5-11, Tim McConnell said, has made big strides, improving her ball-handling and defense. Malcolm (5-10) already has an offer from Pitt and could be ready for a breakout year.
“Sometimes, I just look at her and say, ‘Wow! I’ve got three more years with you,’ ” McConnell said.
What the Colts need is complementary players to step forward. Starters Gabby Legister and Mackenzie Wagner graduated, as did lock-down defender Alex Ferella.
Sophomore twins Helene and Hallie Cowan, both 5-7 guards, are expected to contribute along with Amaleen Malcolm, Aislin’s older sister who is out for the team for the first time after making her mark in volleyball.
Given the number of players who will have to filter into more regular roles, McConnell said it might take a little time for this group to reach its stride.
“You can have talent, but if you don’t play together …,” he said. “And the other thing is: Can they give the intensity on defense that we want? Right now, we’re not at that point.”
An encouraging sign, McConnell said, is this team isn’t satisfied with one unbeaten season. The players appear eager for a sequel.
“If you would have asked me in July, I think we were still celebrating,” he said. “Once practice started, we haven’t talked about last year’s team, and I see them buying in just like last year’s team.”