Valley News Dispatch girls basketball all-stars: St. Joseph’s Julie Spinelli sparks run to PIAA tournament
Saturday, April 1, 2023 | 6:39 PM
St. Joseph, 5-11, Jr., G/F
In St. Joseph’s season opener against Belle Vernon at the Play For Mae Tournament at Woodland Hills, Julie Spinelli went off for 29 points to lead her team to a 54-48 victory over the Class 4A Leopards.
Belle Vernon finished runner-up to Elizabeth Forward in section play before making the WPIAL quarterfinals and ending with 15 victories.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Spinelli said. “We went into it with a good mindset to show people we had everything in place to be a good team this year.
“After last year’s upset of Rochester and our playoff run, we had a lot of momentum going into this season. We were super excited for what we could do.”
St. Joseph ended up winning 20 games (20-7) and repeated as a WPIAL semifinalist and state qualifier.
Spinelli was a big part of the success as she averaged an All-Kiski Valley best 18.9 points per game and was equally effective on the boards at both ends of the court for a 9.7 per-game rebounding average.
“We were a big, tall team and we used that to our advantage,” Spinelli said. “We shared the ball well and just really supported each other. I was fortunate to be able to play as well as I did throughout the season, but I definitely couldn’t have done it without some really great players around me. We were always positive in our approach to each game.”
Spinelli also built a reputation as a solid defender as evident with 4.7 steals per game.
“I was really happy that I was able to pick up my game on the defensive side,” Spinelli said. “That transitioned into my offense. Steals set up some fast breaks where I was able to take it strong to the hoop.”
For her efforts throughout the season, Spinelli has been selected the Valley News Dispatch girls basketball player of the year.
Spinelli increased her per-game scoring average nearly four points from last year when she picked up VND first-team honors.
She reached double figures in every game but one, scored 20 or more points nine times, and collected a season-best 31 in a 56-55 victory over Freeport to help St. Joseph win its holiday tournament title.
“That win over Freeport in our holiday tournament to give us the championship was huge for us,” Spinelli said.
“It was a local matchup, and there were a lot of people at the game. We really played as a team to get that win.”
Spinelli tallied a career-high 33 against the Yellowjackets last year.
St. Joseph routed Geibel in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs. The No. 5 Spartans then traveled to No. 4 Monessen and picked up a 53-46 victory as Spinelli led the way with 23 points against the Greyhounds.
“Going down there, we knew their fans were going to be loud, and it was going to take a lot to get that win,” Spinelli said. “At the end of the day, it just came down to who wanted it more. It was a very physical game, but we were able to keep our composure and play hard throughout the whole game.”
A 21-2 deficit at the end of the first quarter of St. Joseph’s semifinal contest against eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Union was too much to overcome, but the Spartans rallied to within five in the third quarter before falling 55-40.
Spinelli scored 16 against the Scotties, and with a second-quarter 3-pointer, she surpassed 1,000 points for her varsity career.
“It definitely hurt us to start out slow like we did, but I was super proud of my team, and we gave it our all right to the end,” Spinelli said. “We brought it back down to five at one point. If we didn’t let them get that far ahead in the beginning, I think we could’ve won that game.”
Spinelli plans to continue with basketball in college, and this past season helped her garner more interest.
“I am super excited to see what the AAU season will bring, too,” said Spinelli, who practices twice a week with her Slaam Basketball team.
The team kicked off its tournament season this weekend with Slaam Jam in Triadelphia, W.Va.
Spinelli also has made the transition to the outdoor softball season.
“It’s definitely a busy time for me,” she said. “It’s an interesting transition each year, going from basketball right into softball. I always start a little rusty, but I’ve been playing softball my whole life, so I can usually pick things up and hit my stride. Everyone is getting better every day, so hopefully, we’ll have a great rest of our season.”
On top of all of that, Spinelli expects to be glued to the TV as Iowa and superstar Caitlyn Clark takes on LSU for the NCAA women’s national basketball championship at 3 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s awesome,” Spinelli said. “My family and I make brackets every year, and I love watching the games. There are so many great role models on the court. Caitlyn Clark is such an awesome player, and I really look up to her. She’s one of the best players I’ve ever watched.”
Freeport, 5-6, Sr., G
The veteran Yellowjackets varsity starter was a model of consistency this season. The now three-time Valley News Dispatch first-team selection led Freeport in scoring this year at 15.4 points per game and was looked to as even more of a scorer when fellow senior guard Ava Soilis went down with a season-ending knee injury in early January. DeZort scored 15 or more points in a game 13 times with a season-best 29 against Valley on Jan. 19. The John Carroll commit reached 1,000 career points against Derry on Feb. 6.
Kiski Area, 5-9, Jr., G
After a freshman year which saw her break out on varsity and a sophomore season that included a second straight selection to the VND all-star third team, Johns again was solid as the Cavaliers earned a WPIAL playoff spot for the first time since 2012. She led the team in scoring at 14.9 points a game and averaged five rebounds a contest. Johns also was rather consistent from the foul line at 80.4% (82-102). For her efforts, she was selected a Section 1 first-team all-star.
Plum, 5-8, Jr., G
Also a first-team selection last year, Marston made her mark again for the Mustangs, who upset Indiana to earn a spot in the WPIAL playoffs before topping Montour in a preliminary-round game. She hit for a game-best 23 points against Montour and averaged 18.2 for the season as she could score going to the basket, with a mid-range jumper or from beyond the arc. Marston joined Johns on the Section 1 first team.
Highlands, 5-9, Jr., G
Three was a magic number for the Golden Rams junior sharpshooter. Myers sank 93 3-pointers over 25 games and averaged a team-best 14.3 points a contest as Highlands made history with its first trip to both the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA tournament. A second-team VND pick last year, Myers set a school record with 10 3-pointers and finished with 32 points in a 52-38 victory over North Hills at the Highlands tournament Dec. 27. She was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Apollo-Ridge, 5-7, Sr., PG
As the “quarterback” for the Vikings offense, Toland was a main distributor and averaged nearly five assists per game. But she also was able to score the basketball from several areas on the court. Toland finished with a 14.0 points-per-game average to help Apollo-Ridge to a 19-4 record, a spot in the WPIAL playoffs and the first home postseason game in the history of the program. It wasn’t just a one-sided game for Toland, who also contributed 3.5 steals a contest defensively. Toland is a VND all-star for the second year in a row having earned second-team laurels in 2022.
Jocelyn Bielak, Highlands, 5-10, Jr., F
Lexi Colaianni, Kiski Area, 5-6, Sr., G
Anna Kreinbrook, St. Joseph, 6-2, Jr., C
Sydney McCray, Apollo-Ridge, 5-8, Sr., G/F
Kalleigh Nerone, Highlands, 5-8, Jr., G
Julianna Fisher, Burrell, 5-11, So., F
Pascale Olczak, Plum, 6-1, Jr., F/C
Gia Richter, St. Joseph, 5-4, So., G
Jessica Sullivan, Deer Lakes, 5-9, Sr., G/F
Sophia Yard, Apollo-Ridge, 5-6, Jr., G
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
Tags: Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport, Highlands, Kiski Area, Plum, St. Joseph
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