Westmoreland County teams prepare for altered basketball landscape
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Thursday, December 6, 2018 | 6:15 PM
About the only things guaranteed this season in local high school basketball, the only things that haven’t changed, are that the ball is round and the rims are 10 feet high.
The rest, well, it’s all fair game and probably has been subjected in some way to a mass overhaul across the WPIAL.
New sections. New opponents. New road trips. New coaches.
The season opens Friday. As it progresses, the landscape will be all new to many local fans — as goes the league’s biennial realignment cycle — while teams will log many miles just to play section games. Also, some rivalry games that normally highlight schedules have been dashed.
That’s not to say this season will lack excitement or interest; it might just take some getting used to.
The biggest movers and shakers in Westmoreland County:
• The Penn-Trafford and Latrobe girls have dropped from Class 6A to 5A.
“There are some teams in our section we haven’t played in a while,” Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. “It’s different. You kind of go in blind.”
Said Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt: “You almost wonder if we’d fit in better in one of the 6A sections. We’re in a tough one, but we’ll be up for the challenge.”
• Both of Greensburg Central Catholic’s programs are now in Class A, while Derry’s girls moved to 3A.
“This is all new to me, and I have been coaching for awhile,” GCC boys coach Greg Bisignani said.
• An uncommonly large number of new coaches have taken over area programs. In fact, four local schools will have new leaders of both their boys and girls teams: Belle Vernon, Derry, Greensburg Central and Monessen. Overall, 14 new coaches will roam the sidelines in the county.
In addition, the Norwin and Hempfield girls are in separate sections and will stand as the lone Westmoreland team in each.
Franklin Regional’s and Highlands’ boys had the makings of an impassioned rivalry after four intense meetings last last season, but Highlands moved to Class 4A. A returning WPIAL runner-up, Franklin Regional is ranked No. 5 in Class 5A.
Jeannette and GCC had longstanding rivalry games in section, but they’ll have to settle for a girls-boys nonsection doubleheader Dec. 22 in Greensburg. Jeannette is the lone Westmoreland team in 2A.
Asked if the Jayhawks are ready for a new-look section that has teams from Greene and Washington counties, coach Adrian Batts said, “We will be by the time section play starts. I only know about Serra Catholic and a little about Chartiers-Houston. We haven’t played California in a few years.”
Then there is the playoffs. Going to six classes certainly has affected the postseason, just like it has in football.
Some sections have fewer teams and others are packed, which could make qualifying for the playoffs much more taxing to teams in the the latter situation.
The three Class 6A boys sections have six teams each, and the top four in each qualify for the postseason. Girls’ 6A has two, eight-team sections with the top four in each moving on.
One girls’ Class A section also has just six teams.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel, whose Wildcats begin the season No. 2 in the Tribune-Review 6A rankings and are in the six-team Section 2. “We’re going to have to come ready to play every night.”
Latrobe’s section did manage to keep Hempfield and Penn-Trafford, salvaging some other local rivalry games.
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.