Starting 5: A primer for 2023-24 girls basketball season in Westmoreland County

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Thursday, November 30, 2023 | 3:57 PM


The WPIAL girls basketball season opens Friday. Here are some of the top storylines, teams and players to watch this season in Westmoreland County:

5 storylines

• It could be a long and interesting postseason for at least two area teams. The question is, which one will go farther, Norwin or Greensburg Central Catholic?

Both teams are loaded with talent after going deep in the playoffs last season. Both made the PIAA semifinals, Norwin in Class 6A, GCC in 2A.

New coaches are putting down roots in four local programs, including Bob Madison (Hempfield), Mackenzie Livingston (Latrobe), Brian Znavor (Yough) and Christy Hajjar (Ligonier Valley).

Madison is an assistant softball coach at Hempfield, while Livingston is in her first year as a teacher at Latrobe after playing at Blairsville, IUP and Lock Haven.

Znavor used to coach the boys team at Yough, while Hajjar is the all-time leading scorer at Ligonier Valley (she played for Laurel Valley before the merger).

• Lane violations will probably be at an all-time low now that one-and-ones are no longer a part of the game.

Teams will be adjusting to a new rule that will make teams shoot two free throws when they reach the bonus and double bonus.

Before, teams would shoot one-and-ones after reaching 10 fouls in a half. Now, teams get five fouls per quarter, which reset after each quarter.

The new format also is used at the women’s college level.

Coaches and referees are wondering if the change will make games shorter, longer, or if it will be hard to notice a difference.

• The bell will ring on five local programs: Time to change classes.

A handful of teams could be in new classifications for the next two seasons, starting next year, due to larger or smaller enrollment numbers.

That means they will want to leave a mark in their current class.

Greensburg Salem is primed to move from Class 4A to 5A, while Burrell, Yough and Mt. Pleasant will go from 3A to 4A.

Jeannette plays in Class A but has 2A numbers.

• The area won’t be short on college-level talent. Look around the county and you will find a number of girls committed to play at the next level.

Some recruits include Lauren Palangio of Norwin (Holy Family), Ava Kobus of Norwin (Allegheny), Olivia Pepple of Penn-Trafford (Gannon), Abbie Johns of Kiski Area (Shippensburg), Angelia Brush of Franklin Regional (Westminster), Kait Mankins of Greensburg Salem (D’Youville) and Mya Morgan of Greensburg Central Catholic (Cal, Pa.).

5 teams

Norwin went 24-5 last season and flirted with the state finals, falling short in the PIAA semis after reaching the WPIAL final four. Four solid starters return in Lauren Palangio, Ava Kobus, Kendall Berger and Bailey Snowberger. Palangio and Berger made all-state as third teamers.

The development of depth and role players around that core could be the key to sustainable success.

• Mya Morgan and Erica Gribble each averaged better than 16 points a game last season as Greensburg Central Catholic went 24-6 and made the PIAA 2A semifinals after falling short in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Morgan is headed to Cal (Pa.), while Gribble has multiple Division I scholarship offers as a sophomore. Gribble was a second-team all-state pick. Also watch senior guard Avery Davis, the third side of GCC’s triangle. She is a Wheeling commit who averaged around 10 points as a junior.

• Kait Mankins isn’t the only player from Greensburg Salem committed to a college. Three others are headed to Division III programs in Ashlan Price (Allegheny), Mackenzie Span (Pitt-Greensburg) and Giavanna Rosensteel (Carlow). The Golden Lions have experience, size and depth, and should push for a playoff spot, as well as a signature win or two.

Mankins is constantly on double-double watch after she put up 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Hempfield has a sturdy core for new coach Bob Madison to build around, including seniors Sarah Podkul and Ashley Hosni. The Spartans plan to play at a faster pace.

The team has five members of Hempfield’s WPIAL championship winning softball team, a group that also took second in the state last spring.

Penn-Trafford worked its way through the WPIAL playback tournament and went a round deep in the PIAA playoffs. With four starters back, led by Olivia Pepple, the Warriors are primed to make more noise in 5A. Sophomore Torrie DeStefano, junior Lauren Marton and senior Kam Pieper are all capable two-way players.

5 players

Kendall Berger had a breakthrough season as a sophomore, leading Norwin in scoring at 13.2 points while also averaging 4.7 rebounds. Her backcourt experience will be critical to the Knights.

• Norwin has a frontcourt talent, too, in Lauren Palangio. The 6-foot-1 forward (11.9 points, 7.9 rebounds) is a key rebounder, but also brings a shot-altering presence to the lineup.

• Perhaps one of the most talented players in the state, sophomore Erica Gribble (16.9 ppg) has college offers from Bucknell, Villanova, Quinnipiac, Navy, Buffalo and St. Joseph’s.

Mya Morgan is a Cal (Pa.) commit and one of the better senior guards returning in the county. The Greensburg Central Catholic shooting guard put up 16.8 points and made 55 3-pointers as GCC made the PIAA semifinals.

• Penn-Trafford senior guard Olivia Pepple received some Division I college interest before committing to Division II Gannon. She averaged 16.5 points and shot close to 50% from the field.

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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