Trib HSSN girls athlete of the year: Morningstar shines bright for champion North Allegheny

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Monday, June 29, 2020 | 4:04 PM


Paige Morningstar came to North Allegheny three years ago ready to fill the big shoes left behind by both of her two-sport star older sisters.

Now she is following in the footsteps of another Tigers two-sport star in Rachel Martindale.

That is because a year after Martindale won the honor, Morningstar is the 2020 Trib HSSN Female Athlete of the Year.

The annual award is given out to a WPIAL athlete who shined over the course of the fall, winter and spring sports seasons of a school year.

It was tougher this year since there were only two seasons to choose from.

Fortunately for Morningstar, it was the two seasons she lives for.

In the fall, she is on the court playing volleyball. In the winter, she remains on the hardwood playing basketball. She stars in both sports.

“The first thing that comes to mind to me about Paige for both sports is consistency and reliability,” said North Allegheny broadcaster Randy Gore. “On the volleyball court, she was perhaps the most consistent player with savvy play and a steady hand at setter, and she delivered the big swing when called upon.

“For basketball, she provided an athletic inside presence that few teams could match up with.”

In volleyball, the Louisville recruit was one of five first team all-section performers that helped the Tigers finish 23-1 overall, with the lone loss coming in the WPIAL Class AAAA title match against Canon-McMillan.

As NA’s two-year run as district champions ended, the Tigers bounced back when they captured a third straight PIAA championship, beating Bishop Shanahan for a third consecutive year in the state finals.

North Allegheny girls volleyball coach Heidi Miller lists the attributes Morningstar brings to her team and is already looking forward to the upcoming season.

“Her experience, height, IQ and strong hands,” Miller said. “We anticipate she will run a 5-1 (rotation with five hitters and one setter) and be a leader for a somewhat young team.”

Rebounding is what the North Allegheny girls basketball team did in the 2019-20 season.

After winning WPIAL gold in 2017 and 2018 and losing in overtime in the finals in 2019, the Tigers captured a third WPIAL championships in four years.

Morningstar came through with a critical steal and free throw with 5.9 seconds remaining in overtime to clinch the Tigers’ 54-50 win over Bethel Park.

NA was 24-3 with two PIAA state playoff wins when the season came to a sudden halt because of the coronavirus before the PIAA quarterfinals.

Morningstar was second on the team in scoring and rebounding behind teammate Lizzy Groetsch.

For their work on the hardwood, both Morningstar and Groetsch were named first team all-section.

“She’s the perfect teammate and simply a winner,” North Allegheny basketball coach Spencer Stefko said. “She values both ends of the floor. She’s willing to be passive when it’s called for and assertive when it’s called for.

“She simply loves being part of a team.”

Paige is the youngest of three daughters of former Pitt basketball standout Darren Morningstar and his wife Kim.

Meg was a 2015 graduate of North Allegheny and played volleyball at Notre Dame. Piper was a 2018 graduate who started her college basketball career at Radford before transferring to Washington & Jefferson.

“I’m so grateful to have had them experience things first because I’ve learned so much from their mistakes, and it’s helped me make many of my own decisions,” Morningstar said.

How special was it reaching the WPIAL championship finals in both volleyball and basketball this past school year?

It was amazing to reach the championship in both sports. I love both of my teams and am super proud of all that we’ve accomplished this year. Being able to reach the WPIAL finals in both sports for my three years is so special and I would never trade those memories and experiences for the world.

The Tigers won a third straight PIAA girls volleyball championship in November, beating Bishop Shanahan for a third straight year in the finals. Was this one more exciting because of how competitive it was with NA winning in five?

Yes, this past state win was definitely more exciting and nerve wracking. The games leading up to the fifth set were so back and forth that it could’ve gone either way. However, we have been training all year to prepare for that fifth set in the state championship game and we were ready. We knew what we had to do, and playing the same team for three years in a row, we were super familiar with their style of play, so we kept fighting point for point that last game and it paid off in the end.

Was there a specific highlight or memory from this past volleyball season that stands out?

The memory that stands out to me was losing the WPIAL championship. It was the only game I’ve ever lost in my high school volleyball career and one I’ll definitely never forget. The loss really took my team by surprise and made us realize that we aren’t perfect and we can’t beat everybody. I think losing that game put us in the right mindset to turn around and win state.

What about the 2019-2020 basketball campaign?

For me personally, it was the feeling of winning the WPIALs at the Pete. My freshman year when we won, I didn’t have such a key role on the team as I did last year, so being able to celebrate with my team and to engage in the press conference was incredible. It was even sweeter winning in overtime and made the whole experience one that’ll I’ll always treasure.

How tough was it not to finish the PIAA basketball playoffs because of the pandemic when many felt North Allegheny had a good chance to win a state championship?

Having our season cut short broke my team’s heart. I’ll never forget walking in the gym being ready for practice and our coach just sits us down and tells us what’s going on and how there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to finish the season. We had the momentum and adrenaline to go all the way, so not being able to finish what we’ve worked for was devastating. Hopefully next year we will be able to play and finish how we wanted to last season.

Besides hoops, how did the coronavirus affect you this spring?

The coronavirus not only ended my basketball season, but ended my club volleyball season as well. I’ve been playing with some of the girls on my club team for five, six, seven years now and have made relationships that will last me a lifetime. Also, the virus gave me time to be with my family. During the school year, I usually only see them at my games or late at night after practice, so being able to be with my sisters and parents was a blessing. I’ve also had time to work out and do things that I usually wouldn’t because I never had time like cook, read, swim and sleep in.

Are you worried about not being able to play volleyball and/or basketball for your senior season?

I’m extremely worried about not being able to play volleyball or basketball for my last year. Your senior year is supposed to be the best year and taking away sports would be defeating. I’ve made an amazing run in both basketball and volleyball already and I can’t imagine not adding to the history. I have huge goals in place for both sports including winning both WPIAL and state titles and both teams and myself will be crushed if we don’t get that opportunity.

You will be playing volleyball in college. Why that sport over basketball?

I’m playing volleyball over basketball simply because I enjoy it more and it comes more naturally to me. I absolutely love playing both and wish I could in college, but I would never be able to compete for an ACC championship in basketball. I’m better at volleyball and have a better chance for it to take me places down the road. However, both sports will always have a special place in my heart.

What attracted you to Louisville?

The first thing that attracted me to Louisville was their volleyball program. They have amazing coaches, always are bringing in top recruits, and being a Top 25 program, they’re always in the running to win a national championship. Other than volleyball, I love the campus and its central location. They have a great business school and plenty of connections and opportunities that will benefit me after college.

Was it tough following in the footsteps of your sisters since both Meg and Piper were volleyball and basketball standouts at North Allegheny as well?

It was definitely tough to follow my sisters’ footsteps since they’ve both won numerous awards and accolades in both sports as well. I was intimidated by their successes and both of their commitments to play D1. To me, their shoes will always be impossible to fill, but I do hold the most medals in the house, so that’s one thing I can always say.

Do you have any gameday superstitions?

I have a gameday superstition that during playoffs. I always wear my lucky scrunchie. Also, for basketball games, we all write the same motivating word on our right wrist and on our left, we write something meaningful to us individually.

Now that you’ve played a part in recent successes, why is North Allegheny so good in nearly every sport?

North Allegheny is so successful because each team is constantly competing with one another to be the best. We have amazing support from the athletic department and our coaches to push us to where we need to be to succeed. We, as athletes, also do a great job of attending each other’s games and supporting each other that way as well.

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