|McGuffey's Sammie Weiss|
Whether it be the 25-game section winning streak for McGuffey or the unlikely rise of Ringgold in Class AAA, WPIAL girls basketball has never been more exciting. The talk surrounds Seton-La Salle and Burrell in Class AA, but don't overlook the Highlanders. Sammie Weiss and Rachel Czulewicz will let their play do the talking as McGuffey prepares for a first round matchup with Brentwood.
No. 12 Ringgold (12-9) vs. No. 4 Hopewell (18-3) Weds., Feb. 18 at Chartiers Valley, 6:30 p.m.
The Rams shocked people on Saturday when they upset South Fayette to claim the 12th seed in the Class AAA tournament. Six-foot-six junior center Marlena Schmidt dominated for Ringgold, while solid guard play kept the Lions at bay. South Fayette hit six three-pointers to stay alive, but timely free throw shooting in the second half sealed the win. When Schmidt grabs five or more rebounds, the Rams are 12-0. When she doesn't, they are winless.
Hopewell does not have a player over 5-10, which will once again make Schmidt a player to watch for the Rams. Shaniya Rivers is averaging 14.6 points per game for the Vikings, who finished in second place behind Blackhawk in Section 2.
No. 11 Trinity (16-6) vs. No. 6 Hampton (14-8) Weds., Feb. 17 at West Allegheny, 6:30 p.m.
One year after missing the playoffs, the Hillers finished as the second place team in Section 5, behind South Park. Trinity has been consistent in Class AAA all season behind the play of two underclassmen: Mary Dunn and Sierra Kotchman.
With wins over Canon-McMillan, Ringgold, Laurel Highlands and North Cathoic, the Hillers are positioned well for the playoffs and most importantly, received a highly coveted break to rest one of its ailing stars. Dunn suffered a mild concussion last week and her status is unknown for Wednesday.
Hampton possesses a deep bench and is led by sophomore guard/forward Lexi Griggs. The Talbots tied for first place in Section 1 with Mars. Hampton reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last year, where they fell to South Park, 69-37.
No. 11 Brentwood (14-6) vs. No. 7 McGuffey (19-3) Tues., Feb.18 at Peters Township, 6:30 p .m.
This is not the same McGuffey team as last season. Yes, they still have Washington County’s best girls player, Sammie Weiss, but the Highlanders also have junior point guard Rachel Czulewicz. Teams draw defenders into the lane to stop Weiss, but that often leaves Czulewicz open for uncontested threes. The sharp-shooting quarterback of the McGuffey offense has been the perfect complement for Weiss’ game.
I do think that the Highlanders could have trouble against a team with size, but that won’t be the case with Brentwood. Look for McGuffey to advance to the quarterfinals, which would likely set up the first great matchup in the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs: the Highlanders vs. No. 2 Burrell.
No. 9 Fort Cherry (15-6) vs. No. 8 Our Lady of Sacred Heart (15-7) Tues., Feb. 18 at Chartiers Valley, 6:30 p.m.
Winners in 12 of their last 14, Fort Cherry is on a roll in Class AA. Led by seniors Rachel Bellhy and Jenna Lucas, the Rangers are looking to reach the WPIAL quarterfinals for a potential matchup with top-ranked Seton-La Salle, who defeated Fort Cherry twice this season.
Bellhy and Lucas form one of the better back courts in Class AA and are athletic enough to match up against any duo. OLSH features a small lineup that, like the Rangers, is only averaging 48 points per game.
The Chargers are one of only two Pennsylvania teams (Belle Vernon) to defeat McGuffey. The Highlanders’ other loss came to St. Mary’s of Massachusetts at the KSA Classic Tournament at the ESPN Sports Complex during Christmas break. OLSH lost in their second game during last year's playoffs to Deer Lakes, 52-43.
No. 12 Washington (14-8) vs. No. 4 Neshannock (21-1) Tues., Feb. 18 at North Hills, 6:30 p.m.
The Lancers are led by one of the WPIAL’s leading scorers, senior guard Madison McHale, who is averaging over 20 points per game for a Neshannock team that lost just one game this season. The champions out of Section 2, the Lancers average 57.3 points per game, but lack a strong non-section win.
Wash High has not really hit their stride this season, but did give McGuffey a good game on Feb. 7 and in their win over Shady Side Academy on Friday, showed that they don’t necessarily rely on perimeter shooting. Mikala Maltony and Tajah Gordon are solid post players for the Prexies. India March is one of the most unheralded players in Class AA with a jump shot that few can replicate.
No. 16 Carmichaels (8-14) vs. No. 1 Vincentian Academy (18-3) Weds., Feb. 19 at Keystone Oaks, 6:30 p.m.
The Mikes earned the right to face top-ranked Vincentian with a 41-37 preliminary round victory over Monessen on Saturday. Carmichaels is no stranger to the playoffs. Head coach Jim Lane’s teams have reached the postseason in 14 of his 17 seasons as the bench boss of the Mikes. Amanda Brown and Caroline Cree are the leaders for Carmichaels.
Much has been written about both the boys and girls programs at Vincentian. The Royals, led by junior forward Brenna Wise (18.6 ppg), had already clinched their section when they suffered their first loss to a Class A opponent - North Catholic. Torrionna Cash (10.8 ppg) is also a major factor for Vincentian’s offense.
No. 10 Aliquippa (12-10) vs. No. 7 Avella (15-7) Weds., Feb. 19 at Moon, 6:30 p.m.
Jim Matalik has done it again. In 15 years as the head man at Avella, his teams have reached the playoffs 14 times. This time around, the Eagles are led by senior guard/forward Kenna Drazich. The second place team out of Section 3-A, Avella has been overlooked because of the surprising play of their biggest rival and section champion, California. The team’s biggest non-section win came Dec. 10 over Sewickley Academy.
Aliquippa, the third-place team in Section 1, is led by junior forward Ciara Clark (13.3 ppg) and freshman guard Queenisa Gilbert (10.1 ppg).