Trib HSSN 2023-24 WPIAL Class 6A girls basketball preseason breakdown

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Sunday, November 26, 2023 | 12:37 AM


While there are dozens of top players grabbing the attention of college scouts and more than a few teams capable of hoisting the the trophy at Petersen Events Center in March, it’s probably fair to say the road to a WPIAL Class 6A girls basketball championship goes through Wexford.

North Allegheny has won five WPIAL titles in seven years since the expansion to six classifications, including a decisive 71-45 victory over Upper St. Clair in last year’s finals.

Perhaps only North Allegheny could lose one Division I point guard to graduation — Pitt’s Jasmine Timmerson, who scored 30 points in the WPIAL title game — and replace her with another Division I point guard, Kellie McConnell, who, in keeping with the McConnell family tradition, committed to Duquesne in July.

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

Natalie Wetzel, Peters Township

6-3, Jr., forward,

19.0 ppg last season

Players to watch

Lydia Betz, North Allegheny

5-11, Sr., forward, 10.0

Payton Collins, Mt. Lebanon

5-7, Jr. guard, 12.2 ppg

Rylee Kalocay, Upper St. Clair

5-9, Jr., guard, 19.6 ppg

Lauren Palangio, Norwin

6-2, Sr., center, 11.0

Gemma Walker, Peters Township

5-10, Sr., guard, 20.1 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. North Allegheny (22-6 last season)

While Jasmine Timmerson was scoring 30 points on her future college court in the WPIAL championship game, Lydia Betz wasn’t far behind with a 17-point night. Replacing Timmerson’s savvy as a four-year starter won’t be easy, but the Tigers just reload. In addition to Betz, who committed to Division II Goldey-Beacom College, and McConnell, North Allegheny also returns sharp-shooter Caroline Henderson, who is headed to Rochester Institute of Technology to major in engineering, and guard Grace Heliger, who committed to Division III power Baldwin Wallace.

2. Norwin (24-5)

The battle between Norwin and North Allegheny for Section 1 supremacy should last all season, just as it did last year. The Knights return four starters, including leading scorer Kendall Berger, a versatile 5-foot-9 guard, and a pair of 6-footers in Lauren Palagio and Ava Kobus. Bailey Snowberger is a tenacious guard and Ava Christopher is a sophomore to watch.

3. Upper St. Clair (23-4)

The Panthers suffered heavy losses to graduation, including all-section 6-footers Kate Robbins and Mia Brown, Paige DelliCarri and point guard Mia Pruznik, whose injury in the playoffs last year was a gut punch. But top scorer Rylee Kalocay returns, which helps USC stay in position to contend. The offense should run through Kalocay, who can score from the outside or get to the rim.

4. Peters Township (13-11)

With a pair of scorers who easily can hit for 20 points on any given night, the Indians will give matchup problems to any opponent. Natalie Wetzel is a premier post presence and Gemma Walker was the team’s top scorer last season. Bri Morreale is a sophomore to watch.

5. Mt. Lebanon (18-9)

The Blue Devils are in a good spot in coach Jackie DelSardo’s second season, especially because guard Payton Collins returns. Collins turned in one of the most remarkable performances in WPIAL playoff history last season, scoring 17 points in the final 3:28 to lead Mt. Lebanon to a 47-46 comeback win over Chartiers Valley in the quarterfinals. The Blue Devils were down by 16 with three minutes to go.

Notable

• Parity was lacking a bit in Class 6A last season with only four teams — Upper St. Clair (12-0) and Mt. Lebanon (9-3) in Section 1 and Norwin (9-1) and North Allegheny (9-1) in Section 2 — posting winning records in section play.

• Since the advent of six classes in 2017, the only schools other than North Allegheny to win WPIAL titles are Mt. Lebanon (2022) and Peters Township (2019).

Chartiers Valley, in its second season after moving up to 6A, has the talent to shake off last season’s playoff loss. Ella Cupka, Emma Reynolds and Lilah Turnbull are all-section performers who averaged double-digit points last season.

• Led by junior guard Amelia McMichael, who emerged on the scene as a 15 points-per-game scorer last season, Butler could stick its nose in the Section 2 race. So could Pine-Richland, with 6-foot all-section guard Madison Zavasky back. She averaged 19 ppg last season.

• With 13.1 ppg scorer Sarah Podkul and two other starters, Ashley Hosni and Mia Shipman, returning, Hempfield is hoping to grab a playoff spot. The Spartans have a talented sophomore class.

Alignment

Section 1: Butler, Hempfield, North Allegheny, Norwin, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley

Section 2: Baldwin, Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Chartiers Valley, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, Upper St. Clair

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.

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