Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The Neshannock High girls basketball team is taking the court as an underdog tonight.
The Lady Lancers are a young team, fresh off their first playoff win since 2011. Now they must find a way to take down Goliath.
Fifteenth-seeded Neshannock (12-11) will take the court at 6:30 p.m. at Moon High School in search of an upset win over second-seeded Bishop Canevin (18-4) in the first round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
The Lady Crusaders are ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class AA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, complete with three seniors and three juniors. Neshannock boasts just one senior — Katie Burrelli.
“They are seasoned veterans,” Lady Lancers coach Luann Grybowski said of Bishop Canevin. “Three of their players have started since they were freshmen.
“They’re a very good basketball team; we’ll have to play a good game in order to win.”
Grybowski is no stranger to the underdog role in the district playoffs. She coached New Castle to the program’s first WPIAL title in 2004, earning four wins en route to the crown as the No. 10 seed.
“I think the girls are embracing the underdog role,” Grybowski said. “I coach to the point where I believe we have a shot to win.
“Anyone can beat anyone on a given night; I’ve seen it happen enough times. Defense is how we did it (in 2004).”
Defense will have to be a key for the Lady Lancers tonight, too.
Erin Waskowiak, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, leads Bishop Canevin with 15 points, eight rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Waskowiak is a Duquesne University recruit.
“Erin is just so athletic,” Lady Crusaders coach Tim Joyce said. “She makes everyone better on offense and defense.”
Said Grybowski of Waskowiak, “She’s a pretty good all-around player. She can do a little of everything. She handles it well. She gets it up the floor. She shoots the 3 and she rebounds. She’s a force to be reckon with. But we can’t just focus on her.”
That’s because Bishop Canevin has three other starters averaging double figures in scoring.
Carly Forse, a 5-10 senior forward, is next at 14 points and a team-high 10.5 rebounds a contest.
“Forse is a decent post player,” Grybowski said. “They bring her high and low, and they do a little of both with her.
“She mostly plays with her back to the basket and she’s a strong kid.”
Celina DiPietro, a 5-10 senior guard, averages 13 points a game and Johnie Olkosky (5-9, junior, forward) chips in with 10.
“My guess is she’s an outside shooter,” Grybowski said. “They push it up the floor and they run like a secondary break transition game. They get a lot of easy points off of that. All three of those girls score in that transition game for them.”
Freshman point guard Gina Vallecorsa, who stands 5-8, directs the Lady Crusaders’ attack.
“Vallecorsa doesn’t play like a freshman,” Grybowski said. “She handles the ball very well and she does her job.”
Madison McHale, a 5-8 sophomore guard, paces the Neshannock offense at 17 points a game. She poured in a game-high 28 points for the Lady Lancers in a 47-38 win over West Shamokin in a preliminary-round win.
McHale took over the top spot in the county in scoring with her performance against the Lay Wolves, passing Mohawk’s Shelby Brown (16.5 ppg.). McHale is first in the area in foul shooting as well at 87.7 percent (93 of 106). She’s adding 5.5 rebounds a game, too.
“She handles the ball well and drives it to the basket well,” Joyce said. “She’s a great foul shooter and she’s really good at drawing fouls.”
Alexandra Fischer, a 5-11 junior guard/forward, is next for Neshannock at nine markers and 4.7 rebounds a contest.
Tayler Grybowski, the coach’s daughter, is averaging eight points and a team-high six rebounds a game for the Lady Lancers. Tayler is a 5-10 sophomore guard/forward.
“Fischer is a good, strong player inside,” Joyce said. “Tayler is a good player; you know she’s going to know how to play.
“They’re kind of a young team and they’ve gotten better as the season wore on. There’s no doubt, Neshannock is a team on the rise.”
Fischer’s five points against West Shamokin was the most aside from McHale’s effort.
“I’m sure they’ll focus on Madison (McHale),” Luann Grybowski said. “We need a couple of other girls in double figures. We need two kids other than her to step up in order to be effective.”
Neshannock is averaging 47.2 points a game and giving up 46.6 a contest.
“My biggest concern is how they drive to the basket and draw fouls. That’s a tough thing in the playoffs,” Joyce said. “They are solid defensively, especially in the half court. I don’t worry about teams pressing us because we handle that pretty well.”
The Lady Crusaders are limiting the opposition to 32.4 points a game, while scoring 55.6 of their own. Grybowski recognizes the importance of defense for her team.
“We need to be able to read and react to what they’re doing,” she said. “We need to take care of the ball and we can’t afford to give them more possessions than they already have.
“We’ll have to defend well and we need to box out; not allow second shots. If we can keep them to 40 points or so, we’re doing our job.”
Bishop Canevin won the last meeting against Neshannock, a 53-39 verdict in the first round of the 2011 WPIAL Class AA playoffs. It was Grybowski’s second season at the helm of the Lady Lancers.
“We were an older team that year,” Grybowski said. “We played them tough in the first half.
“It’s going to be a task for us to compete. We’ll have to play good in every aspect.”
The winner advances to meet the survivor of the Mohawk-Beaver matchup in the quarterfinals Friday at a time and site to be determined.