With 4 starters returning, Latrobe girls basketball planning winning encore

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Monday, November 29, 2021 | 7:34 PM


Four starters return this season to the Latrobe girls basketball team, which looks to defend its section title after a mad scramble for first place saw the Class 5A Wildcats come out on top last year by the thinnest of margins in the WPIAL Section 4 standings.

Latrobe, whose 9-1 record bested Woodland Hills’ 10-2 mark in a covid-shortened season, went on to the WPIAL semifinals and dropped a five-point decision to eventual champion Chartiers Valley, which flirted with winning a state championship before being bounced by Cardinal O’Hara in the PIAA title game.

What can Latrobe do this year for an encore?

“I’ll tell you this: We’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” coach Mark Burkardt said.

“There were people who didn’t think we’d do what we did last year. There were so many games decided by five points or less, and you had to be ready and prepared every night you went into the section.”

It figures to be much of the same this year, he said.

Seniors Anna Rafferty, a 6-foot-2 forward, and Bailey Watson, a 5-6 point guard, are among the team’s returning starters.

The others are 6-1 junior forward Emma Blair and 5-9 sophomore guard Elle Snyder.

Rafferty last season was named the Tribune-Review Westmoreland County Player of the Year, averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds. She is committed to Division II IUP.

Rafferty and Blair have been an imposing pair for opponents the past two seasons, and they’ve got one more year together to top it off.

“Obviously, with our size, we’d like to get the ball inside as much as we can,” Burkardt said. “That’s an offensive advantage.”

Rafferty and Watson are the lone seniors for Latrobe, which opens its schedule with a pair of games at the Indiana Tip-Off Tournament beginning Dec. 10 against Class 3A Marion Center.

Following the tournament, Latrobe gets right into Section 4 play with trips to Woodland Hills on Dec. 16 and Penn Hills on Dec. 21.

The Wildcats also will host their annual holiday tournament over the Christmas break, facing McLean (Va.) on Dec. 29 and Chartiers Valley on Dec. 30 in a rematch of the WPIAL semifinals.

It will be the second visit to the tournament for McLean, which is coached by former Latrobe great Jen Sobota, the school’s all-time leading girls basketball scorer with 2,093 points.

Sobota went on to become the career leader in assists at William & Mary, where she finished with 1,511 career points.

Latrobe defeated McLean in its 2018 holiday tournament, 68-53.

Meanwhile, juniors Camille Dominick, a 6-0 forward, and Josie Straigis, a 5-9 forward, could find their way into starting roles for Latrobe this season, Burkardt said, with 5-9 sophomore guard Elle Snyder likely again suited for a “super sub” role.

“Elle started a couple of games for us as a freshman but really thrived as our sixth person,” Burkardt said.

Straigis, whose main sport is softball, returns to the basketball team after a year off, but she already is making her mark.

“She’s a tremendous athlete. She’s just incredibly athletic,” Burkardt said. “She did an excellent job in our scrimmage (Saturday at Norwin). She’s a very good defender.”

While Watson’s experience at the point is a plus for any team, Burkardt’s staff is eager to see the development of two younger players as reliable backups.

Sophomore Belle Blossey and freshman Carley Berk are battling for a spot, and Burkardt said the competition between the two has been pleasant to watch.

“There are things we need to work on. Our defense has to get better, for one thing,” Burkardt said. “We’ll mix it up defensively, if we can. I thought our man was pretty good (against Norwin).”

Latrobe girls at a glance

Coach: Mark Burkardt

Last year’s record: 14-3 (9-1 Section 4-5A)

Returning starters: Emma Blair (Jr., F), Anna Rafferty (Sr., F), Elle Snyder (Soph. G), Bailey Watson (Sr. G)

Top newcomers: Camille Dominick (Jr. G/F), Josie Straigis (Jr. G/F)

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