Latrobe’s fabulous frontcourt among top headline-grabbers in Westmoreland County hoops

Thursday, December 9, 2021 | 6:02 PM

WPIAL basketball season opens Friday, and big expectations — emphasis on big — are coming out of Latrobe.

The Wildcats girls basketball team is far from a long shot because it is long across the roster.

Teams will be hard-pressed to match Latrobe’s height, which will be complemented by the team’s experience — a dangerous combination for opponents and elements that can carry a team a deep into the postseason.

The Southmoreland girls and Belle Vernon boys also return an abundance of talent and are expected to contend for titles.

After reaching the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals a season ago, Latrobe returns 6-foot-2 senior forward Anna Rafferty, the reining Trib Westmoreland player of the year, and junior forward Emma Blair, who stands 6-1.

The “Twin Towers” reference to Rafferty and Blair is so 2020. With four players at 5-9 or taller, Latrobe (14-3) will have a skyline to guard.

Junior Camille Dominick is another 6-footer.

“We have a much smaller team (numbers-wise) than we’ve had since I’ve been here,”Rafferty said. “But I’m hoping that’ll bring us closer together. We have girls with a lot of experience to a little (experience).

“I think as the season goes on we’ll set the pace for what should be expected and with different starters, hopefully bring different strengths that’ll carry us far.”

The Wildcats, who made the semifinals for the first time since 1998, open the season ranked No. 2 behind stacked Chartiers Valley, the two-time defending champion that won 64 straight games before a loss in the PIAA final.

While rendering smaller teams helpless in the paint, Latrobe will look to avoid the Colts in the postseason for as long as possible, hoping they are situated on the opposite side of the bracket from Tim McConnell’s standouts.

Southmoreland, which finished 16-5, has its sights on a WPIAL title in 4A after returning to the semifinals last season after a finals run in 2019-20.

Senior 5-11 forward Gracie Spadaro and junior point guard Olivia Cernuto instantly make the Scotties a contender, and they will have a strong and long supporting cast with senior guards Delaynie Morvosh (6-0) and Elle Pawikowsky and junior forward Maddie Moore (6-1) in the rotation.

The Scotties, looking to throw others off the scent in what looks to be a more open 4A field, are No. 1 in the Trib’s preseason rankings.

“I think we’ll be disappointed if we don’t make it as far as we did last year, if not farther,” Cernuto said. “We know what is expected of us.”

On the boys side, Belle Vernon (13-2) looks like the team to beat in Class 4A. The Leopards have bravado after reaching the WPIAL semifinals last season and the final two years ago.

Leading man Devin Whitlock returns for his senior season as the hard-wired Leopards try to lay the groundwork for another deep run. The outstanding point guard averaged 21.9 points last season and has 1,373 points in his career.

Senior Daniel Gordon and sophomore Quinton Martin add to an athletically jacked lineup.

“I think we are going to look the same as last year: electric and speedy,” Gordon said. “But this year we have plenty more experience. We also have more depth coming off our bench with the younger guys that will help us.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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