Trib HSSN 2023-24 WPIAL Class 4A girls basketball preseason breakdown

By:
Monday, November 27, 2023 | 11:34 PM


North Catholic, Blackhawk and Elizabeth Forward won section titles with undefeated records last season, and all three bring back their leading scorer.

That doesn’t mean this season is destined to be a repeat of last in Class 4A girls basketball, but it does mean it will take some doing for the hopefuls to knock off the incumbents.

After winning the Class 3A title in 2022, North Catholic bumped up and beat Blackhawk in the 4A finals in March. The Trojanettes and Cougars have to be considered the favorites to return to the Petersen Events Center.

Atop the list of teams to watch are last year’s WPIAL semifinalists – Quaker Valley with dynamic sophomore Oumou “Mimi” Thiero and Highlands with four starters back.

Here is a rundown of players to watch, top 5 teams and other notables in WPIAL 6A girls basketball this season.

Preseason player of the year

Alayna Rocco, North Catholic

5-11, Sr., guard

17.2 ppg last season

Players to watch

Alena Fusetti, Blackhawk

5-10, Sr., guard, 18.1 ppg

Kaitlyn Mankins, Greensburg Salem

6-0, Sr., center, 14.9 ppg

Kalleigh Nerone, Highlands

5-6, Sr., guard, 12.0 ppg

Alyssa Terza, Elizabeth Forward

6-0, Sr., guard, 13.6 ppg

Oumou “Mimi” Thiero, Quaker Valley

6-4, So., guard, 13.2

Preseason Top 5

1. North Catholic (25-4 last season)

The heart and soul of the North Catholic team, Alayna Rocco returns for her senior year having already won back-to-back WPIAL titles, scored 1,000 career points and committed to Harvard. While she was scoring a team-best 16 points in last year’s WPIAL title game, guard Ava Walker was scoring 13, and she also returns. There were significant losses to graduation, including guard Dacia Lewandowski to Akron, so the Trojanettes probably won’t be a finished product from day one.

2. Blackhawk (25-5)

Alena Fusetti led Class 4A in scoring last season and took her game to another level in the playoffs. Haley and Piper Romigh give the Cougars three returning starters, four if you count sophomore Aubree Hupp, who stepped into the playoff lineup for the injured Quinn Borroni last season and was impressive. The big question mark for Blackhawk is on the sideline, where former Beaver coach Greg Huston takes over for Steve Lodovico, who stepped down in April. Andrea Kinger will step in for the graduated Kassie Potts at point guard. The Cougars are motivated to avenge losses in the WPIAL and PIAA finals.

3. Elizabeth Forward (17-7)

If the Warriors are a step behind North Catholic and Blackhawk, it’s just the tiniest step, only because they didn’t have the postseason success the other favorites did last year. Elizabeth Forward brings back an accompished core with top scorer Alyssa Terza and post presence Michelle Jellison, both all-section players, as well as point guard Chloe Zombek.

4. Highlands (16-10)

The Golden Rams had a breakthrough season last year, reaching the WPIAL semifinals as a six seed, and they bring back four starters. That includes all-section guard Kalleigh Nerone, a 12 ppg scorer last year, Pitt-Johnstown recruit Kate Myers, who led the team with 14 ppg last season, Pitt-Greensburg recruit Jocelyn Bielak and three-year starter Shelby Wojcik.

5. Quaker Valley (17-9)

The Quakers will be led by 6-4 sophomore guard Oumou “Mimi” Thiero, who has perhaps the highest ceiling of any player in WPIAL girls basketball. Smooth and athletic, Thiero has already received a Division I offer from Duquesne, the first of many, no doubt. The Quakers lost a talented senior class, though, so Thiero will need a hand from some of her sophomore classmates and senior guard Madi Chapman.

Notable

• With guards Naturelle Ewing and Cece Kosecki back, Knoch should be a factor in Section 1. The Knights are another team with a new coach after assistant Shane McGraw took over for Chris Andreassi in October.

• Led by 6-foot senior Kaitlyn Mankins, who averaged a double-double last season, Greensburg Salem won’t have to take a backseat to anyone. Guard Ashlan Price, who averaged close to 10 ppg, and two other starters are back.

• With Joe Kirschner taking over for Greg Huston as head coach, Beaver has the talent to contend in Section 2. Chloe List, a Cleveland State volleyball recruit, and Zoe Ringer are part of a solid core.

• With top scorer Savaughn Wimbs leading the way, West Mifflin should be among the top contenders in Section 3.

• The top four teams in each section make the playoffs.

Alignment

Section 1: Derry, Freeport, Greensburg Salem, Highlands, Knoch, North Catholic, Valley

Section 2: Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, Quaker Valley

Section 3: Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Laurel Highlands, Southmoreland, Uniontown, Ringgold, West Mifflin

Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at jbombulie@triblive.com.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

More Basketball

Experienced assistant ready to move into head coaching role with Ligonier Valley boys
Valley turns to prominent basketball alumni to help restore luster to boys, girls programs
Armstrong’s Emma Paul named 2023-24 TribLive HSSN Girls Athlete of the Year
Mt. Pleasant’s Scott Giacobbi retires after 19 seasons coaching girls basketball
Newly hired boys basketball coach Brandon Sensor sees Shaler as ‘right opportunity’