Trib HSSN Girls Basketball Head of the Class: Player, coach of the year in all 6 classifications

Monday, April 1, 2024 | 6:01 AM

Class 6A

Player of the Year: Natalie Wetzel, Peters Township

Standing 6-foot-3, Peters Township junior Natalie Wetzel was a cut above the competition on most nights. Wetzel averaged 17.3 points in helping Peters Township enjoy its most successful season since winning WPIAL and PIAA titles with a perfect record in 2019. Wetzel teamed with 5-10 senior Gemma Walker to form a strong tandem that led the Indians to a runaway Section 2-6A title. She scored 30 points in a WPIAL quarterfinals win over Pine-Richland. Peters Township lost in the district semifinals to North Allegheny and to state runner-up Spring-Ford in the PIAA second round.

Coach of the Year: Brian Brozeski, Norwin

For years, North Allegheny has dominated the WPIAL girls basketball 6A landscape, but this season was filled with plenty of great nights by the Knights. Norwin not only picked up a rare sweep of Section 1 rival North Allegheny in the regular season, the Knights captured their first WPIAL girls basketball championship in eight years by convincingly beating the Tigers in the district finals, 56-41. Norwin was the last 6A girls team remaining in the PIAA playoffs when it lost to eventual runner-up Spring-Ford in the state quarterfinals, 60-47. In his 13 years as head coach at Norwin, Brozeski has led the Knights to three WPIAL championships: in 2015, 2016 and 2024.

Class 5A

Player of the Year: London Creach, Oakland Catholic

Oakland Catholic found out how big of a piece to the perfect puzzle Creach was when she was lost for the season because of injury in a district quarterfinals victory over North Hills. The Eagles were 24-0 at that point, but they lost three of their final five games, including a semifinals loss to Armstrong and a state second-round loss to PIAA 5A runner-up Cathedral Prep. When healthy, there were few better, as the junior averaged 15 points in the regular season and scored 17 points in a first-round playoff win over Penn Hills. Big-time props to Armstrong senior Emma Paul for a great season and an incredible postseason for the River Hawks.

Coach of the Year: Bryan Bennett, South Fayette

Bryan Bennett just completed his sixth season as head coach of the South Fayette girls basketball program, and he has brought home district gold in half of them. The Lions stunned many by winning the WPIAL Class 5A championship. Two years ago, they upset Chartiers Valley in the title game and last year they dominated their way to a repeat performance. However, few saw another title run coming when a revamped Lions team finished in third place in Section 4-5A and drew the No. 6 seed. South Fayette beat No. 3 Trinity in the quarters, surprised No. 2 McKeesport in the semis then finished the three-peat with a victory over Armstrong in the finals, 70-63.

Class 4A

Player of the Year: Alayna Rocco, North Catholic

Rocco was a gym rat as a kid, following her father to a high school gymnasiums on a regular basis. Her dad Jim is the head coach at North Catholic and a former championship coach at Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford. The senior created her own legacy as a player at North Catholic. Rocco averaged more than 19 points in the regular season and 20.6 points in WPIAL playoff wins over Central Valley, Elizabeth Forward and Blackhawk in the finals. She scored 26 points and had three steals as the Trojans repeated as WPIAL champs with a victory in overtime over the Cougars. Rocco will continue her education and hoops career this fall at Harvard.

Coach of the Year: Greg Huston, Blackhawk

With a shout out to Stewart Davis after a 10-game improvement for Laurel Highlands, it was a crazy offseason and season for new Blackhawk head coach Greg Huston.

The former coach at Beaver resigned as Bobcats coach with a desire to chill and watch his daughter and son play basketball this season. But after the resignation of Blackhawk coach and 2023 HSSN Coach of the Year Steve Lodovico, Huston pursued the Blackhawk job in part because his daughter was a freshman for the Cougars. With plenty of talent back from a team that won district and state silver a year ago, it looked like 2024 would be a heartbreak repeat after Blackhawk lost to North Catholic in overtime in the WPIAL title game. However, the script was reversed, and the Cougars won all five games in the PIAA playoffs to capture elusive gold.

Class 3A

Player of the Year: Mallory Daly, Seton LaSalle

Seton LaSalle improved from a fourth-place finish in a deep Section 2-3A a year ago to being tied for second place this season with a four-game improvement in the win column thanks to the play of Mallory Daly. The senior had the third-most points in the regular season as she dropped 500 and averaged 23.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Following an upset win over Waynesburg in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, the Rebels’ season ended with a loss to Beaver Falls in the quarterfinals. The Buffalo recruit finished 29 points shy of 2,000 for her career, but she became the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Coach of the Year: Jonna Burke, Shady Side Academy

Following an offseason she’d rather forget, it turned out to be a golden season to remember for the veteran girls basketball coach who concluded her third year at Shady Side Academy with a WPIAL title. Burke was suspended for a year by the WPIAL for recruiting, a charge upheld by the PIAA. However, a court overruled and she was permitted to coach this season. Sparked by sophomore sensations Maggie Spell and Karis Thomas,

SSA finished with 26 wins and stunned top-seeded Avonworth in the WPIAL 3A championship game, 52-45. The Bulldogs reached the PIAA quarterfinals before falling to eventual state runner-up Westmont-Hilltop, 47-41.

Class 2A

Player of the Year: Iyanna Wade, Clairton

Iyanna Wade won her second straight WPIAL scoring title with a mind-boggling average of 40.1 points this season for Clairton. The junior enjoyed one of the biggest scoring nights in district history in late January when she scored 65 points in a game against Steel Valley. The Bears knocked off 2023 Class 2A runner-up Freedom in the first round of the 2024 playoffs when Wade dropped 52 points in the overtime win over the Bulldogs.

Coach of the Year: Chris Skatell, Greensburg Central Catholic

There was a time when Greensburg Central Catholic was a force in 2A girls basketball in the mid-2000s, winning three district championships between 2003-2007.

In only his third year as head coach at GCC, Chris Skatell led the Centurions to a WPIAL title for the first time in 17 years this season. GCC finished as co-champs with Serra Catholic in Section 3-2A last year but this time went undefeated in the section and finished two games in front of the Eagles. The section rivals met for a third time in the WPIAL finals at The Pete, and the Centurions crushed the Eagles, 62-41. GCC reached the state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Kennedy Catholic, 61-45.

Class A

Player of the Year: Kelly Cleaver, Union

Major props to two other Class A players who shined bright this season in senior Julie Spinelli of WPIAL runner-up St. Joseph and sophomore Emma Larkin of Geibel Catholic, but our repeat winner in girls Class A is Union’s Kelly Cleaver. The senior had a team-high 16 points in a district quarterfinals win over West Greene and 15 points in the semifinals victory over Riverview. In the district Class A finals at The Pete, Cleaver scored 25 points and had seven rebounds in a 50-43 overtime win over St. Joseph, giving the Scotties their second straight WPIAL championship. The Millersville commit averaged 16 points per game this season.

Coach of the Year: Rob Nogay, Union

With plenty of players back from a district and state title run a year ago, there were high hopes coming into this season for more success, despite a 5-5 start. However, when you see the losses came against 6A top-ranked at the time Upper St. Clair, two losses to eventual 4A state champion Blackhawk and setbacks to 3A top seed Avonworth and 2A WPIAL winner Greensburg Central Catholic, you understand Nogay was preparing his team for another successful postseason run. The plan worked as

Union edged St. Joseph’s in overtime in the WPIAL title game, 50-43. The Scotties’ hopes for back-to-back double gold fell short, though, when they lost in the state quarters to eventual PIAA champion Bishop Guilfoyle, 60-43.

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