Trib HSSN Head of the Class: WPIAL girls basketball’s best in each classification

Friday, April 2, 2021 | 11:24 PM

There are certain perks to doing well.

Sometimes you get to move to the front of a line, like the long line of standout girls basketball players in the WPIAL in 2021.

There were plenty of top-notch players and coaches who stood out for their performances on the girls basketball court around the district this unique winter; however, these six players and six coaches were a cut above the rest and deserve a line-cutting salute.

The following have reached the HSSN Head of the Class for this past season and are our Trib players and coaches of the year in each of the six classifications.

Class 6A

Player of the Year: Lizzy Groetsch, North Allegheny

The 5-foot-11 senior had a standout season for the only district girls team to win a state championship. Groetsch averaged over 16 points per game and saved her best play for the postseason. Groetsch scored 24 points in North Allegheny’s WPIAL title game victory over Upper St. Clair, then pumped in 24 points in a state semifinals victory over Cumberland Valley and 22 points in the PIAA title game triumph over Spring-Ford. She heads to Philadelphia, where she will attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Coach of the Year: Spencer Stefko, North Allegheny

After great success at Chartiers Valley and Seton LaSalle, all Spencer Stefko has done in his six years at North Allegheny is take the Tigers to six straight WPIAL title games, win four WPIAL championships, including a second straight this season, and collect the program’s first PIAA state crown. NA finished 27-1 as the Tigers have lost only 10 games in the last five years.

Class 5A

Player of the Year: Aislin Malcolm, Chartiers Valley

Chartiers Valley girls basketball coach Tim McConnell has said several times that Aislin Malcolm could easily go out and score 25 points per game if they needed her to. With deep talent, the Colts are golden with Malcolm averaging 17.5 points per game. The 5-11 junior earned a third straight WPIAL title and a first silver PIAA runner-up medal to go along with the state gold the Pitt recruit earned as a freshman.

Coach of the Year: Tim McConnell, Chartiers Valley

This could have stayed in the family with the great job sister Kathy McConnell-Miller did at Trinity this season, but brother Timmy gets the nod. All the Colts did this season was rack up a state-record 64-game winning streak, which was stopped by Trinity. However, when the Colts and Hillers met in the WPIAL finals for a second straight year, Chartiers Valley rolled to a 22-point victory and third straight district crown.

Class 4A

Player of the Year: Emma Pavelek, Beaver

Emma Pavelek is a standout on the Beaver track and field team. She got off to an early start during basketball season as she and the Bobcats sprinted to a perfect record through the district playoffs. Pavelek averaged over 15.5 points per game in helping to lead Beaver to a third straight trip to the finals. She scored 13 points in the title game win over Quaker Valley. The 5-8 Pavelek is a Navy recruit.

Coach of the Year: Greg Huston, Beaver

Greg Huston has always preached about the importance of defense to his teams. This year, the Bobcats got very defensive about their coach’s words. Beaver allowed a WPIAL-best 25.2 points per game as the Bobcats shook off recent title game losses to North Catholic and Mohawk to beat Quaker Valley in the 4A finals to win the school’s first WPIAL championship.

Class 3A

Player of the Year: Paige Julian, Mohawk

In the final chapters of a great scholastic hardwood career for a special group of seniors, the trio of Paige Julian, Nadia Lape and Hannah McDanel were able to turn the page on another district championship run. Julian, Lape and McDanel were dominant, especially in the postseason. However, it was the 5-8 Julian who consistently led the Warriors with an average of 20.5 points per game. Julian will play her college ball at West Liberty.

Coach of the Year: Mike O’Lare, Mohawk

Mohawk became a dark horse to repeat when realignment dropped North Catholic from 4A to 3A. In fact, the Warriors lost to the Trojans twice during the regular season by a combined 25 points. However, Mike O’Lare and his talented senior-laden team stunned the Trojans, 54-48, to win a second straight 3A crown. Mohawk later joined Neshannock as the first Lawrence County girls basketball teams to play for a PIAA championship. Mohawk lost to West Catholic in the state finals.

Class 2A

Players of the Year: Neleh Nogay, Neshannock

Expectations weren’t very high for a young Neshannock team that was 11-11 last year and missed the playoffs. However, the Lancers overcame injuries and inexperience thanks to the play of the 5-6 Neleh Nogay. The junior averaged over 15 points per game for a Neshannock team that finished 19-3 and captured district gold for the second time in three years. The Lancers lost to Mount Carmel in the state title game.

Coach of the Year: Bill Cleary, Serra Catholic

Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski deserves big-time kudos for guiding a young team to a district crown, earned with a victory over Serra Catholic. However, we here at Trib HSSN are a bunch of softies, so we send the great Bill Cleary into retirement with 2A Coach of the Year honors. Cleary did guide the Eagles to a 16-1 overall record and another trip to the finals. In 34 years at Serra, Cleary won 657 games, four WPIAL championships and one PIAA title.

Class A

Player of the Year: Alexis Robison, Rochester

Alexis Robison knows what it’s like to be a champion. She concluded her scholastic career saying she would not be denied another WPIAL championship. She wasn’t. Robison averaged 19 points per game and was the straw that stirred the Rams drink all season as Rochester finished 16-4 and earned a district three-peat with a convincing title game victory over West Greene.

Coach of the Year: C.J. Iannini, Rochester

Rochester was a good program from 2016-2018, reaching the playoff each of those three years, winning a playoff game before losing in the district finals. The last of those years was the first season at Rochester for C.J. Inannini. Since then, the Rams have become a dynasty, winning three straight WPIAL Class A championships, only the fourth district school to accomplish the feat (St. Francis Academy, Avonworth, Vincentian Academy).

• • • • •

TribLive HSSN Postseason Awards

Boys Player of the Year

Girls Player of the Year

Boys Trib 10 All-Stars

Girls Trib 10 All-Stars

Boys Head of the Class

More High School Basketball

New coach brings passion for basketball to struggling Jeannette girls program
Nolan Larry takes reins of Elizabeth Forward boys basketball
High-end Pittsburgh summer basketball league features fierce competition, fun trash talk
Latrobe basketball standout Emma Blair verbally commits to S.C. Upstate
Penn Hills junior shows 1-on-1 skills at summer showcase