Successful 2nd season for PIHL girls league ends with Southeast on top

Saturday, June 17, 2023 | 6:01 AM

In the second season of PIHL girls hockey, the Southeast team enjoyed a playoff bonanza.

Southeast entered the postseason with a 5-6-0-1 record after back-to-back losses to its East and Northeast opponents in the last two games of the regular season.

The odds seemed stacked against the Southeast girls, who faced an East squad that skated into the championship game with a 9-4 record, two impressive playoff wins, eight victories in its last nine games and as the league’s most explosive offensive team.

Also, the Southeast lost to the East twice during the regular season.

But the Southeast girls shocked the PIHL with a 3-2 win June 10 at Alpha Ice Complex in the league’s second annual championship game.

“With a shortened season and limited time to practice, it is very difficult to develop a ‘team,’ ” Southeast coach Jeff Anderson said. “This group seemed to come together at the right time. Wins were not only a result of talented players scoring goals but a collective group effort to keep the other team from scoring. Everyone played a part, and the success of the team is a result of all (the players).

Finals MVPs

The star of the championship game for Southeast was Peters Township’s Cameron Reese Haught, a freshman forward who scored the winning goal with just 1 minute, 36 seconds left in regulation.

Chartiers Valley senior forward Chloe Downey accounted for the first two goals for the winning side. Sophomore forward Delaney Howard from Baldwin knocked in both goals for the East.

Vacations and weekend scheduling conflicts prompted several girls’ absence from the PIHL championship game. Southeast opposed the East with just 11 players available.

“It was unfortunate we weren’t able to play with our full complement of players during the championship, but the East was in the same boat,” Anderson said. “North, Southwest and East all had good seasons and played well in the playoffs. In the end, we were just fortunate enough to be the last team standing.”

Braidee Blackburn was the winning goaltender for Southeast. The team’s regular goaltenders, junior Alana Briscoe from Bethel Park and junior Elise Crow from Mt. Lebanon, were unavailable for the final. Crow was out after a figure skating accident.

So Blackburn, a Bentworth sophomore and Central team member, filled in for Southeast. She stopped 41 of 43 shots on goal.

The East’s goalie, Corrine Bruno, a junior from Latrobe, faced 24 shots in the championship game.

“Hockey is not just a game that you want to win,” said Southeast forward Lidia Lorenzi, a junior from Bethel Park. “It’s about having fun, building friendships, learning how to adapt in situations and bettering yourself. I think the PIHL has opened many people’s eyes about girls hockey.

“I can confidently say winning the championship was a big shocker for me as well as my team. Just making it to the championship after being in sixth place was pretty exciting.”

The road to the top

The Southeast squad defeated the North, 3-2, and Southwest, 4-1, in its first two playoff tests.

“Through the playoffs, I thought we really solidified as a team,” Briscoe said. “We were still learning how to play together during the season.

“Everyone clicked in the playoffs. Communication was clear, and the overall flow of the games felt more natural. Our coaches — Jeff Anderson, Zach Taylor, Bryan Kern and Michael Dale — found our strengths pretty quickly. Forming lines based on complementary playing styles really helped us.”

The final overall standings for the girls division were: East (9-5), Southwest (8-3-0-1), Southeast (8-6-0-1), Central (7-6-0-1), North (6-4-0-3), Northeast (5-6-0-2), West (4-7-0-2).

The inaugural PIHL girls season last year culminated with the East edging Central, 2-1, on an overtime goal by Penn-Trafford’s Kylie McKenzie in the championship game.

The PIHL expanded to seven teams this season, adding a Northeast squad.

“Girls hockey is growing in Western Pennsylvania,” Anderson said. “Leagues have embraced the development of the girls game, and it is great to see. Hopefully, as the popularity of the game grows, more teams will be added in the future.

“Chris Chiusano, the girls division commissioner, did a wonderful job this season not only getting this league organized but by continuing to provide great leadership.”

Scoring stars

Downey had 23 points (15 goals-8 assists), Peters Township junior forward Leela Nemani 19 points (12-7) and Haught 17 points (7-10) to lead Southeast in scoring.

North’s Madyson Kirsch, a freshman forward from Freeport, ended up as the league’s No. 1 goal scorer with 25 goals and four assists for a league-high 29 points.

Howard racked up 20 goals and eight assists for 28 points to lead the East team. Baldwin junior forward Rachael McKrea (10-4-14), McKenzie (6-8-14) and Latrobe’s Kira Florek (4-7-11), both sophomore forwards, complemented Howard in the East’s scoring column.

Leading point-producers for Central were forwards Isabella Allsopp (12-7-19), a junior, and Kayle McCarthy (13-2-15), a freshman. Both are Upper St. Clair students.

For the West, it was freshman forward Caroleena Genco (8-10-18), sophomore forward Lillian Relyea (8-6-14), both from Moon, and another sophomore forward, Quaker Valley’s Emily Reiner (8-2-10), who led the way offensively.

Three girls finished with eight points for the Southwest team: Trinity freshman forward Keira Roddy, Linsly sophomore defender Tessa Moore and Ohio County sophomore forward Anna Brannare.

Northeast’s leading scorers were junior defender Cordella Wemyss and sophomore forward Mylee Serkis, both representing North Catholic.

“I think the league did a nice job once again splitting up talent as much as possible,” Anderson said. “There was a lot of parity. Most teams were within three or four points of each other at the end of the season, which is good for the sport.

“The camaraderie between players on different teams that play on the same amateur teams outside of the PIHL is an interesting dynamic, and those interactions are fun to see after games.”

PIHL teams

Here is a look at the seven PIHL girls teams and the schools their players come from:

East — Baldwin, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Penn-Trafford, Richland, Steel Valley, Windber

Southwest — Belle Vernon, Brooke, Canon-McMillan, John Marshall, Linsley School, Ohio County, Seton LaSalle, South Park, Trinity

Southeast — Bethel Park, Chartiers Valley, Morgantown, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin

Central — Bentworth, Freedom, Knoch, Oakland Catholic, Pine-Richland, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Shady Side Academy, Upper St. Clair

North — Crawford Central, Freeport, Mars, New Brighton, North Allegheny, Seneca Valley

Northeast — Armstrong, Burrell, Hampton, Hollidaysburg, Karns City, Oil City, North Catholic, State College, Westmont Hilltop

West — Avonworth, Beaver, Hopewell, Montour, Moon, Neshannock, Quaker Valley, Shaler, West Allegheny

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