Trib HSSN Head of the Class: Best of WPIAL girls basketball 2022-23

Saturday, April 1, 2023 | 7:51 PM

There were a lot of players and coaches who put in plenty of time on the basketball court this season to be the best they could be.

While we salute all of those who participated in a memorable 2023 girls high school basketball campaign, we have a special seat in the front of the classroom for those who were a cut above.

The following six players and coaches will fill those seats after being named the Trib HSSN Head of the Class for the 2022-23 season in each of the six classifications.

Class 6A

Player of the Year: Rylee Kalocay, Upper St. Clair

Rylee Kalocay made a big splash last year as a freshman for one of the top 6A programs in the district, and followed it up with a sensational sophomore season. She led the team and the classification in scoring, averaging nearly 20 points per game. Kalocay helped Upper St. Clair win the Section 2-6A title, reach a third straight WPIAL championship game and finish with 23 wins in 27 games. In the finals against North Allegheny, Kalocay scored 24 of the Panthers’ 45 points.

Coach of the Year: Spencer Stefko, North Allegheny

In the seven years since the WPIAL and PIAA expanded to six classifications, North Allegheny has won the 6A crown five times. However, there was something different about this 2023 title run. The Tigers were favorites, and sometimes heavy favorites, in their district championship wins in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021. But this season, after finishing as co-champs in Section 1 with Norwin, North Allegheny was not the top seed. After beating Norwin in the semifinals, NA cruised to gold in the finals with a big win over top-seeded Upper St. Clair, 71-45.

Class 5A

Player of the Year: Maddie Webber, South Fayette

There were a lot of key contributors on the South Fayette girls basketball team this winter, with depth being an important part of the team’s success. However, senior Maddie Webber stood tall in her dominant play on the court. Webber averaged 17.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3 steals per game for the Lions. Webber hit the game-winning 3-pointer in a PIAA quarterfinals win over Cathedral Prep and scored 24 points in the state semifinals win over Oakland Catholic. Webber will play her college ball at Villanova.

Coach of the Year: Eddie Benton, Oakland Catholic

The former Perry Commodores boys basketball star in the ‘90’s returned home after several years of coaching basketball in the college ranks. He made a splash in his first year at Oakland Catholic, winning the tough Section 3-5A title and finishing 25-5 overall. Oakland Catholic’s Kryptonite this season was South Fayette. The Eagles lost to the Lions in the WPIAL championship game, 64-49, and fell to them again in the PIAA semifinals, 58-54.

Class 4A

Player of the Year: Alayna Rocco, North Catholic

Alayna comes from good bloodlines. Her dad Jim is the current boys head coach at North Catholic and a former coach at Penn Hills and Penn-Trafford. Alayna is carving out her own legacy, averaging 17.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. She went over 1,000 points for her career, and still has one year left. She helped North Catholic win a second straight WPIAL championship by scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds in the 4A title game win over Blackhawk. Rocco is a Harvard recruit.

Coach of the Year: Steve Lodovico, Blackhawk

One year after winning WPIAL Class 4A gold with a perfect record, the stage was set for an encore performance for Blackhawk. However, the Cougars were forced to play the entire district and state postseason without Mercyhurst recruit Quinn Borroni due to an Achilles injury. Blackhawk found a silver lining, reaching the WPIAL finals before losing to North Catholic, then rebounding to make the PIAA title game, where the Cougars lost to Lansdale Catholic.

Class 3A

Player of the Year: Mairan Haggerty, Neshannock

Coming into this season, Neshannock had won back-to-back WPIAL championships and the 2022 PIAA Class 2A title. The Lancers may not have enjoyed the golden success this winter they had the two previous seasons, but that doesn’t mean anybody found a way to slow down Mairan Haggerty. The senior put up big numbers, averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.7 blocks per game as the Lancers were co-champs in Section 1-3A and reached the WPIAL semifinals before losing to Laurel.

Coach of the Year: Jonna Burke, Shady Side Academy

In 2021, the Shady Side Academy’s girls basketball team won one game all season. Last season following the hire of Jonna Burke from Bethel Park, the Bulldogs improved to nine wins and a berth in the WPIAL playoffs. This season, sparked by freshman sensations Karis Thomas and Maggie Spell, SSA won the Section 3-3A crown, was the top seed in the district playoffs, reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals and ended up with a record of 25-4.

Class 2A

Player of the Year: Shaye Bailey, Freedom

What could have been? That’s what the Freedom girls basketball team had to be wondering once its season ended. How would the playoffs have played out if they hadn’t lost leading scorer Shaye Bailey late in the regular season to a collarbone injury? The Bulldogs still reached the district finals, falling to Shenango in the WPIAL 2A title game, 44-34. Before the injury, Bailey averaged 21.7 points per game and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for her career. The junior also excels at soccer, track and field and softball.

Coach of the Year: Ricci LaRocco, Shenango

In the last few years, Shenango had to play in the large 2A shadow cast by Lawrence County rival Neshannock. The Lancers dominated the class with back-to-back district titles and state gold last season. But with the Lancers moving up to 3A, the time was perfect for Shenango to shine bright. Behind second-year coach Ricci LaRocco, the Wildcats did just that. They were co-champs in Section 1-2A with Freedom, and then defeated the Bulldogs in the WPIAL 2A finals, 44-34, to win the program’s first district championship.

Class A

Player of the Year: Kelly Cleaver, Union

At 6-foot, Kelly Cleaver stands out whenever Union hits the floor, but when it mattered the most for the Scotties, Cleaver’s game came up large. Cleaver averaged 15.6 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals and 3 assists per game as Union enjoyed its best season ever. Cleaver scored 14 points and had 9 rebounds in the Scotties’ WPIAL title-winning game over Aquinas Academy, 52-35. She then scored 15 points in a PIAA semifinals win over Berlin-Brothersvalley and 12 points in the state finals victory over Lourdes Regional, 46-29.

Coach of the Year: Rob Nogay, Union

Don’t worry if Union girls basketball coach Rob Nogay gets defensive when you bring up the double gold his team won this winter, it’s in his DNA. In his fourth season coaching at his alma mater, Nogay led the team to a 23-6 record and district and state gold. What is amazing is in the four years before Nogay took over, Union won a total of eight basketball game combined. Now the Scotties have a WPIAL championship after beating Aquinas Academy and a PIAA crown after knocking off Lourdes Regional thanks to a defense that allowed only 29.5 points per game in eight postseason wins.

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