South Hills Record girls basketball preview: Teams look to continue to build

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Sunday, December 4, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Basketball season is underway. Here’s a look at the three girls teams in the South Hills Record coverage area:

Baldwin

Baldwin lost a big part of last year’s team when leading scorer Morgan Altavilla graduated in the spring.

A highly energetic 5-foot-6 guard and four-year varsity starter, Altavilla led the team in scoring as a junior and senior, averaging 20 points per game in 2021-22.

“Morgan was not only one of our captains but a huge contributor to our team’s success,” coach Jamal Woodson said at the end of last season. “She was one of the top scorers and players in the WPIAL. Losing her is going to be very hard. It is hard to find a player that never misses a practice, leads the team and is among the leaders in WPIAL scoring.

“Morgan has lived and breathed Baldwin basketball since she was a toddler. She is the definition of what it means to live and breathe Baldwin basketball. Losing her will be a tremendous loss.”

The Highlanders posted a 5-7 record in Section 2-6A last year and ended up 12-9 overall.

They are back in the same section along with Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Chartiers Valley, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.

The only difference this year is that Chartiers Valley has replaced Hempfield among the section teams.

“Our immediate goals are, by our work ethic, to come out of the gate and produce,” Woodson said. “Our long-term goal is to be a top contender in our section. We as coaches truly believe in this team and we are excited to showcase our competitiveness on the court.”

Leading the way for Baldwin this season are returning starters Kate Lucarelli, a junior guard, Gianna Schoeb, a senior guard/forward, and Bri Swailes, a senior guard.

“With strong senior leadership and fresh talent, our opponents should expect us to compete,” Woodson said. “We also expect big things from sophomore (guard) Mary Vargo and junior (guard) Mallory Mezevitch.

“Katie was our point guard (last season), and all the plays ran through her. She did a tremendous job being our second captain and leading us to many victories. Gia gave us the motivation we needed and was all in every practice and game. She was very encouraging to the players. And Bri was our best defender. When we needed to take the other team’s best scorer out of the game, Bri was ready for the task.”

Lucarelli plays basketball in the summer for the Western PA Bruins AAU organization. She also competed in track for Baldwin last spring and has a 3.9 GPA.

“We are young but full of energy,” she said. “Since we lack height, we are conditioned to play fast. Our main strength is our speed while our hustle and grit are also present.

“My goals this year are to focus on positive leadership and further develop my skills on offense.”

Top newcomers in the lineup include freshmen guards Jacey Klingensmith and Laci Bernotas.

“We expect them to make an immediate impact,” Woodson said.

Brentwood

Brentwood has dropped from Class 3A to 2A in girls basketball this season.

“I believe we can be very competitive and successful in our section,” coach Rachel Thomas said. “Right now, we are focused on getting all the girls comfortable with our system while focusing on fundamentals. This year, we lose a week of practice prior to our first game, so the coaching staff has had to adjust what we are doing and teaching in practice.

“Our long-term goals always remain to improve daily in order to be successful in our section and the playoffs.”

The Spartans are competing in Section 2-2A this year against the likes of Burgettstown, Carlynton, Fort Cherry, Northgate and Sto-Rox.

Burgettstown won the Section 3-2A crown with a 9-1 record last season and ended up 18-5 overall. Fort Cherry (15-7, 8-2) was the runner-up.

Sto-Rox (9-11, 7-3), Carlynton (7-13, 2-8) and Northgate (1-18, 0-10) also were members of Section 3-2A.

Essentially, Brentwood has replaced Chartiers-Houston in the renamed section.

Last year, the Spartans ended up with a 6-6 record in Section 3-3A, 9-12 overall, after losing to Waynesburg, 56-50, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

Returning starters are senior guard Brianna Folino, junior forward Mia March and sophomore forward Paige Boehm. Senior guard Jenna Yee also has worked her way into a starting position.

Folino, at 5-foot-3, relies on her quickness and shooting touch in the Spartans’ backcourt.

“After starting preseason especially late this year due to so many players involved with fall sports, I want our team to build our chemistry to have a successful season,” Folino said. “We are a young, small team with only 11 girls and need to thrive off our hard work and speed. Our forwards are very strong.”

Folino also is a member of the volleyball and softball teams at Brentwood, as well as the National Honor Society and steering committee. She has a 4.3 GPA and plans to study data science in college.

“I really want to perform well in our section and qualify for playoffs,” Folino said. “Personally, I want to continue to gain more basketball knowledge, and as a senior, I want to help guide my team through this season.”

Four additional players being counted on heavily in 2022-23 are junior guard Bobbie Wardzinski and sophomores Ay’marie Henry (F), Jessie Yee (G) and Lexi Wardzinski (G).

“Our underclassmen will play a huge role in our success,” Thomas said. “Although we are young, this team is making improvements daily. They are fast, confident and determined.

“Our three freshmen, (forward) Lila Tinker, (forward) Madelyn Fry and (G/F) Tafssira Tambari, are making incredible improvements daily, with each one showing her strengths and complementing our existing players. We are excited about the possibilities of this season.”

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s new girls basketball coach, Matt Gould, plans to keep things simple.

“The only expectation we have is that everyone comes in every day and works as hard as they can,” Gould said. “We were just recently hired and had zero offseason with our players, so as of right now, we are focused on getting to know one another and trying our best to become a team quickly.

“In the immediate sense, we simply want to have a basketball team that is able to play hard for 32-plus minutes. Long range, we’re hoping this team can lay the foundation for a new era of TJ girls basketball which only happens with time, a ton of practice and grinding every time we step on the court.”

Gould, born and raised in Mt. Lebanon, spent the last seven years as a boys basketball assistant to Joe David at Mt. Lebanon.

Gould’s coaching philosophy? It couldn’t be simpler.

“Grind and it will all work out,” he said.

Three starters are back from last year’s playoff team: senior guards Abby Atkinson and Julia Berberich and junior forward Laekyn Flinn.

Junior guards Josie Pugh and Caraline Sommer, along with junior forward McKenna Haggerty, are expected to make major contributions in 2022-23.

“All saw time last year and will play huge roles for us this season,” Gould said. “We also expect freshman Riley McCabe to play significant minutes.

“Additionally, we have several sophomores and freshmen battling for varsity time.”

TJ tied for second with Albert Gallatin last year in Section 3-5A, both with 9-3 records, three games behind section winner Trinity (12-0).

Connellsville (5-7), Ringgold (3-8), Uniontown (2-10) and Laurel Highlands (1-10) rounded out the section.

The Jaguars were led by four-year starter Graci Fairman, a 5-foot-5 point guard who is continuing her career at Wheeling University. Fairman averaged 22 ppg last season.

The TJ girls are in Section 3-5A again but the section has a new look with Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Latrobe, McKeesport, Oakland Catholic, Penn-Trafford and TJ.

“The section is loaded with great talent and great coaches,” Gould said. “McKeesport is coming off an amazing season. Oakland Catholic is loaded and has a phenomenal coach. I’m just getting through all of the tape.”

Gould, 47, is assisted by Dawn Ziegler, an educator from Brentwood with 25 years of coaching experience, and Alayna Ziegler, who played at Seton LaSalle and enjoyed a four-year hoops career at Mt. Union.

Gould relishes the opportunity to lead a varsity basketball program for the first time.

“Yes, I’m very excited,” he said.

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