Trib HSSN 2021-22 WPIAL Class 4A girls basketball preseason breakdown

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Monday, December 6, 2021 | 3:55 PM


Last March, Beaver used a stingy defensive effort to hold down a talented Quaker Valley team in the Class 4A girls basketball finals, winning the program’s first WPIAL championship.

Both the Bobcats and Quakers suffered significant graduation losses after that championship confrontation, though, leaving the field wide open heading into this season.

When the season tips off Friday night, there are more than a few Class 4A teams that have to like their chances of grabbing some district gold when all is said and done.

Here is a look at the players and teams to watch in Class 4A.

Preseason Player of the Year

Payton List, Beaver

5-11, senior, guard/forward

16.2 ppg last season

Players to watch

Madilyn Boyer, Knoch

5-8, Sr., G, 11.2 ppg

Olivia Cernuto, Southmoreland

5-8, Jr., G, 12.0 ppg

Alyssa Gillin, Central Valley

6-0, Sr., F, 17.3 ppg

Gracie Spadaro, Southmoreland

5-11, Sr., F, 13.0 ppg

Tiffany Zelmore, Mt. Pleasant

5-9, Jr., F, 19.6 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. Southmoreland (16-5 last season)

After reaching at least the WPIAL semifinals each of the past two seasons, the Scotties have all five starters returning. That’s a recipe for success. Gracie Spadaro, a 5-11 IUP recruit, averaged 13 points per game last season. Olivia Cernuto, the Tribune-Review Westmoreland County girls athlete of the year last school year, averaged 12 points per game. Delaynie Morvosh, a 6-foot forward, also averaged double digits at 11.7 points per game.

2. Knoch (10-2)

Knoch had the unusual distinction of going undefeated in Section 1 last season without technically winning a section title. The Knights finished 7-0 and North Catholic was 9-1. Because neither team completed its 12-game section schedule due to covid cancellations, no section title was officially awarded. This drives Knoch, which welcomes back two of the top players in the section. Madilyn Boyer, a 5-7 guard, averaged 11.2 points per game last season. Junior point guard Nina Shaw averaged 11.3.

3. Blackhawk (13-6)

The fact that the Cougars could lose a pair of talented scorers in Jolie Strati and Alivia Thompson to graduation and still have a team capable of contending is a testament to the program’s depth. Any one of a handful of scorers could lead Blackhawk on a given night. In the playoffs last year, 5-9 guard Alena Fusetti, then a freshman, provided an offensive spark. She averaged 10.4 points per game last year. Junior Kassie Potts averaged 8.8 points and 4.0 assists per game last year.

4. Montour (13-10)

Montour’s 7-6 section record last season was a reflection of how deep and talented Section 2 was. The Spartans finished fourth behind Beaver, Quaker Valley and Blackhawk but picked up the school’s first playoff victory since 2010 anyway. Montour brings back a dangerous trio of scorers in senior Olivia Lyscik and juniors Raegan Kadlecik and Olivia Persinger.

5. Beaver (20-1)

Payton List is one of the WPIAL’s most dynamic all-around athletes. Last year, she helped Beaver to the school’s first WPIAL basketball title, then led the Bobcats to WPIAL and PIAA softball championships as well. She’ll play softball at Virginia Tech. A handful of impact players, including leading scorer Emma Pavelek, graduated, however, so the Bobcats will be breaking in new starters. Better catch them early in the season rather than late.

Notable

• Freeport was an upset victim in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs last year, but discounting the Yellowjackets would be a bad idea. Four starters return from a team that went 9-1 in section. Melaina DeZort, a 5-6 junior guard, averaged 13.5 points per game last year.

• The team that upset Freeport in last year’s playoffs was Mt. Pleasant, and the Vikings bring back Tiffany Zelmore, a 5-9 forward who was one of the top scorers in the WPIAL last year at 19.6 points per game.

• Derry also welcomes back a scorer with a 19.6 points-per-game average from a year ago. Tiana Moracco, a 5-9 senior guard, also averaged 6.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

• Beaver isn’t the only WPIAL finalist from a year ago dealing with significant losses to graduation. Quaker Valley will miss a pair of Division I athletes — Corinne Washington, who is at Boston University, and Bailey Garbee, who is at American.

• After West Mifflin went 7-2 and finished second in Section 3 last year, coach Lance Maha left to take over the Norwin boys program. The Titans hired Loren Jones, a West Mifflin alumnus who was on the school’s 2002 PIAA finalist team.

Alignment

Section 1: Burrell, Deer Lakes, Derry, Freeport, Highlands, Knoch, Valley

Section 2: Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, Montour, New Castle, Quaker Valley

Section 3: Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland, West Mifflin, Yough

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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