WPIAL Girls Basketball Player of the Week — Week ending Jan. 26

Sunday, January 26, 2020 | 10:13 PM

After winning a combined seven games the three previous seasons, New Brighton is in the hunt for a playoff spot, tied for fifth place in Section 1-2A. The Lions are one game out of a playoff spot heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Part of the reason for the turnaround is the return of Sydney Cook, who, after two years at New Brighton, transferred to Lincoln Park for her junior season before returning home to play her senior season for the Lions.

“Sydney’s shot is beautiful. Her competitiveness is strong. The defensive anticipation is potent, but her toughness is something to be admired,” second-year coach Jerrod Planitzer said. Game-in and game-out, she goes hard to the hoop, putting her body on the line, and it has earned the respect from coaches, teammates and fans.”

While Planitzer didn’t get a chance to coach Cook in his first season, he knew her from middle school and was excited to get the opportunity to finally have her on the roster.

“Since I teach at New Brighton middle school, I knew Sydney since she was in the sixth grade. She was always kind, polite and very focused with her academics. Participating in AAU basketball and succeeding in different sports like soccer has really helped in making her the successful, well-rounded student athlete she is today.”

Cook had a big performance in each game as New Brighton scraped together a winning week with a 2-1 record.

The senior guard scored 23 points in a loss to defending champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, then scored 27 points two days later in a nonsection win over Cornell.

“We had our worst game of the season at OLSH on Monday,” Planitzer said. “Wednesday, we were still flat, even in a win at Cornell.”

The back-to-back listless performances by the Lions prompted a conversation Thursday between the coach and the scoring leader about her overall performance, goals and leadership.

Cook responded with her biggest point total and her best game of the season later that night against Sto-Rox.

“It was far and away the most impressive overall performance I’ve seen from any one person in my two years coaching here,” Planitzer said. “Syd had a smooth 42 points, driving fearlessly to the rack against a big team while also hitting four 3-pointers and shooting 90% from the line.

“She was on from the start facing different defensive looks while scoring the team’s first 10 points. Sydney’s drive was contagious that night, and we are hopeful that the fever stays high for a few more weeks.”

New Brighton is 3-7 in the section, one game behind Shenango in the battle for fourth place. If they finish tied with the Wildcats, both teams would go because they split their head-to-head games.

It has been eight years since the girls basketball team qualified for the playoffs. Planitzer is hoping that changes with some help from the fans.

“I want these girls to get a taste of athletic success,” he said. “We have to win a few more games in order to reach the postseason. We have home games on Monday and Tuesday, (Feb.) 4. I hope everyone and their neighbors pack into the friendly confines of New Brighton High School to cheer the Lady Lions into the playoffs.”

Honorable mention:

MacKenzie Amalia, Blackhawk

Senior guard MacKenzie Amalia continues to be a big hit (shout out to Blackhawk baseball coach and girls hoops assistant coach and McKenzie’s proud papa, Bob) as Blackhawk kept its hold on the Section 2-4A lead with two more wins last week. Amalia scored 26 points in the Cougars’ victory at Quaker Valley before returning home to score 24 points in a win over Hopewell.

Bella Skobel, Charleroi

While it might have been a split decision in the two games last week for Charleroi, it was a steady dose of points from Bella Skobel. In a loss to South Park and a victory over McGuffey, the senior scored 24 points in each game as the Cougars picked up their 10th win of the season and are closing in on a playoff berth in Section 2-3A.

Jersey Wise, West Greene

This Jersey is not only Wise but extremely valuable to West Greene. The oldest of three Wise players for the Pioneers, junior Jersey Wise spearheaded three more wins. She scored 22 against California, 20 against Jefferson-Morgan and capped a successful week with a 30-point performance in a win over Beth-Center that kept West Greene perfect at 18-0.

Previous Trib HSSN Players of the Week:

Week Five – Reilly Sunday, Moon

Week Four – Ashleigh Connor, Mt. Lebanon

Week Three – Alyssa Pollice, Bishop Canevin

Week Two – Jhayla Bray, McKeesport

Week One – Kennedie Montue, Plum

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