Westmoreland County basketball teams to watch

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Thursday, December 6, 2018 | 6:24 PM


5 teams to watch

Boys

Belle Vernon — Longtime Monessen coach Joe Salvino switched Mon-Valley programs to take over the Leopards and has some talent with which to work. Junior guard Cam Nusser (14 ppg) pilots an experienced group that made the PIAA playoffs last year for the first time in two decades. A deep rotation could throw BVA into the mix in Class 4A. The Leopards are ranked No. 4.

Franklin Regiona l — The Panthers, who start the year No. 5 in 5A, made the WPIAL Class 5A final last year, their first trip to the finals since 1997. While only one starter returns in Nick Leopold, they have battle-tested reserves looking to step in such as senior guard Aidan Wiley and senior forward Adam Rudzinski and 6-foot-7 junior forward Johnny O’Toole. Defense could take this team a long way. New section foe Mars could present some problems. The teams met in last year’s title game.

Jeannette — Each year Jeannette seems to have a tall task in replacing key players but manages to adjust. This year will be another challenge with Tribune-Review Player of the Year Tre Cunningham, Robert Kennedy and Anthony Johnson gone. That trio accounted for almost 50 points per game for a WPIAL semifinalist and PIAA quarterfinalist. That said, three experienced starters return in Marcus Barnes, Jackson Pruitt and Seth Howard, and watch senior guard AJ Sharp. The Jayhawks are No. 3 in Class 2A.

Latrobe — Starting the year No. 2 in Class 6A, the Wildcats come with heavy expectations. Reed Fenton and Bryce Butler are a tremendous one-two combo who have the potential to combine for 50 points a game. Their role-playing teammates will be key, however, to any long postseason run. Look for another run-and-gun season and a few new names to emerge in key roles.

Ligonier Valley — The returning District Class 3A champion Rams, led by new but also former coach John Berger, could go a long way again led by Marrek Paola and junior point guard Michael Marinchak, who averaged 19 points per game. There are not many better inside-outside scoring tandems in the state. Like Latrobe, though, depth will be critical.

Girls

Franklin Regional — Anthony Kobus takes over the coaching duties and inherits not only senior guard Cali Konek but also senior Jordan Yaniga, who should complement Konek well. More scoring punch could help the Panthers compete better against section teams like Mars and Gateway. A bench will have to mesh quickly.

Greensburg Central Catholic — The goal is to reach the WPIAL playoffs for a county-leading 19th straight time and the components are there for first-year coach Sam Salih to make that happen as the Centurions drop to Class A. There aren’t many backcourts with three talented guards who come with experience and chemistry, in seniors Anna Eisaman and Bella Skatell, and junior Melina Maietta. The development of a rotation will help Salih faciliate the faster pace he wants.

Greensburg Salem — Megan Kallock can be one of the top scorers in the WPIAL this season but she can’t do it alone. That’s where players like Nikki Mellinger, another senior, come in. She is one of three returning starters, joining senior Emily Monahan. Cutting down on turnovers and scoring more in transition are keys for the Golden Lions as they try to return to the playoffs.

Norwin — A new section, sans any other teams from Westmoreland County, will give the Knights longer road trips against strong competition. Class 6A has just two, eight-team sections and the Knights hope to fit into the half of the field that makes the WPIAL playoffs. Norwin played in a number of close games last season and will lean on players like senior guard Jess Kolesar and junior guards Olivia Gribble and Jayla Wehner. All are talented shooters and part of what looks like another deep rotation.

Southmoreland — Forward Maggie Moore (6-2), the team’s lone senior, will be an important two-way player around which the Scotties can build. Another player, 6-1 Sarah Pisula, adds to the team’s frontcourt size. Energetic junior guard Charity Henderson will play a larger role while some inexperienced underclassmen will need to bring some grow-up-quick contributions to make things work.

Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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