Starting 5: A guide to the Westmoreland County girls high school basketball season
Thursday, December 5, 2019 | 7:53 PM
1. Great expectations
Norwin and Southmoreland could be the last local teams standing come the postseason. Both have experienced teams that went a couple of rounds in the WPIAL and PIAA postseason but will need deep benches to sustain prolonged runs.
2. Gene pull
A veteran coach returns to the sidelines at Derry in Gene Brisbane, the longtime Hempfield girls coach. Brisbane, 67, will attempt apply old-school philosophies and see if they still can work in the modern era. His experience at the low college level and as a broadcaster should give him a fresh perspective on the game and how it has changed.
3. Fresh faces
A number of local programs will look to freshmen to play right away. They include Southmoreland, with Olivia Cernuto; Belle Vernon with Viva Kreis, Farrah Reader, Jenna Dawson and Presleigh Colditz; and Ligonier Valley with Haley Boyd.
4. A sleeper in 5A?
Latrobe has just one senior, but the Wildcats return junior guard Rachel Ridilla (14.6 ppg) and 6-foot-1 sophomore Anna Rafferty, who is considered a Division I prospect with strong upside.
5. Title drought
Can a county team bring home a championship? Norwin won back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2015 and ‘16, but a local girls team has not won a championship since. Penn-Trafford won a title in ‘14.
TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Belle Vernon
Second-year coach Ronnie Drennan will lean on seniors Vienna Bertram and Rachel Wobrak and junior Taylor Rodriguez for leadership and quality minutes, but also will look to the future with a talented group of underclassmen, including fershman Viva Kreis.
2. Greensburg Central Catholic
Sam Salih has only been coaching GCC for a short time, but the second-year leader knows he has to keep the team’s playoff streak intact. It stands at 19 straight postseason appearances. Senior guard Melina Maietta could be one of the WPIAL’s top scorers and will look to guide a sophomore-heavy group forward in Class A, where GCC begins the season ranked No. 2 behind Rochester.
The Knights, who reached the WPIAL 6A semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals and won 23 games, begin the season ranked No. 4 by the Trib. Seniors Olivia Gribble and Jayla Wehner are a formidable backcourt duo and another deep bench will keep the rotation fresh.
The Warriors made the 5A playoffs again and have the talent to return led by senior long-bomber Bella Long. Coach John Giannikas, in his 14th year, will rely on a guard-oriented lineup that includes other returning starters in juniors Allie Prady and Kenzie Powell, and sophomore Maura Suman, the point guard.
The defensive-minded Scotties led WPIAL 4A in points allowed last year (36.8) and will look to slow down opponents again as they seek out their first section title since 2007. Four starters are back, led by sophomores Bailey Kuhns and Gracie Spadaro and fast-rising freshman Olivia Cernuto.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Olivia Gribble
Norwin, sr., G: A 16-point-per-game scorer as a junior, Gribble is a dangerous perimeter threat who is headed to Marietta.
2. Sarah Liberatore
Hempfield, sr., G: A fourth-year player for the Spartans, she averaged 17.3 points last season and is expected to be one of the top guards in 6A.
3. Bella Long
Penn-Trafford, sr., G: Slippery Rock recruit is one of area’s top long-range shooters and will be the centerpiece of a guard-led rotation for the Warriors.
4. Melina Maietta
Greensburg Central Catholic, sr., G: Talented shooting guard scored 19.6 points a game last year and returns with a greater on emphasis on defense.
5. Jayla Wehner
Norwin, sr., G: Do-it-all guard and Marian commit is the floor leader for 6A No. 4 Knights, who should push for a WPIAL title.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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