WPIAL Girls Basketball Team of the Week: Week ending Feb. 29
Sunday, March 1, 2020 | 8:09 PM
It may seem the Mohawk girls basketball team is an overnight sensation, but it has been winning a lot of games over many years.
The problem is most of those wins were in December and January with the program hitting a postseason wall come February.
Over a seven-year span from 2012 through the ’18 season, Mohawk had an average record of 18-6 in the regular season. But it was only able to get past the first round twice, losing to Bishop Canevin in the 2013 Class AA quarterfinals and again to the Crusaders in the ’18 Class 2A semifinals.
That all changed this season as the Warriors marched through the WPIAL Class 3A girls basketball brackets, concluding with a 44-26 defeat of section rival and top seed Beaver to capture the school’s first girls basketball WPIAL championship.
“It is really an exciting time for our program,” Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare said. “To first win a section title, and then follow it up with our first-ever WPIAL championship, is a credit to the hard work and commitment of our players. Without good players with good work ethics, none of this happens. I am really proud to be the coach of this program and to enjoy this with this group of kids.”
Last season, the Warriors were hit with injuries that dropped them to 7-16, the program’s first losing campaign since 2011. Mohawk qualified for the playoffs but lost in the first round to Washington, 58-45.
So there were questions coming into this season, questions that disappeared as Mohawk won 16 of its first 17 games thanks to the strong play of senior Karly McCutcheon and junior Nadia Lape.
“Nadia and Karly have been receiving more attention from other teams during the playoffs and have continued to play at a high level,” O’Lare said. “They both can do so many things well that they are hard to stop. They do so much more for our team other than scoring that helps us win games.”
Mohawk finished tied for first with Beaver and was slotted as the No. 2 seed when the playoff brackets were released. After a first-round bye and a double-digit win over East Allegheny, the Warriors began last week facing Section 3 champion Carlynton in the semifinals.
Junior Paige Julian scored 33 points in the Warriors’ 64-58 triumph.
“Paige has been huge for us during this playoff run and probably hasn’t received the credit she deserves,” O’Lare said. “She leads our team in rebounding and also has 45 charges taken on the year. She is our rim protector who never leaves her feet.”
The win sent Mohawk into the title game Saturday against Beaver, a team making its second trip to the finals in three years.
After a low-scoring first quarter that saw the teams only score five points each, Mohawk took control of the game for good in the second quarter, hitting several 3s and outscoring the Bobcats, 16-4, for a 21-9 lead at the half.
“We did struggle to shoot in the first quarter,” O’Lare said. “I don’t think the venue or backdrop was as much an issue as the multiple lines on the floor. Every 3 we took was from behind the men’s line. The multiple lines are an issue, and there is no way to simulate that leading up to that game.”
Mohawk was 0 for 7 from 3 in the opening quarter and finished 7 for 17 over the final three quarters.
The one thing that was steady throughout the contest was the tremendous defense played by the Warriors.
“We made some minor adjustments prior to this game on how we wanted to guard certain players defensively, but we didn’t change our overall scheme,” O’Lare said. “We also rebounded the ball as well as we have all year.”
The title run puts Mohawk and the Lawrence County town of Bessemer in the spotlight. O’Lare said the school and community have been tremendous in their support of his team.
“The Mohawk community has really embraced this team and has been taking over gyms during the playoffs. We are humbled by the support of our community and the student body who have shown up game after game to support us. We have great kids who treat people the right way, so it makes them easy to support.”
The Warriors will face the No. 4 team out of District 6, United, in a PIAA first-round game Friday.
What does O’Lare plan to do to avoid the dreaded WPIAL championship hangover?
“When it’s the first time in history that you win a WPIAL championship, the celebration might last a little longer than most. But we will regroup on Monday and get ready for the state tournament.”
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