NEW CASTLE —
Shelby Brown had plenty of motivation.
And, it paid off for the senior as well as the Mohawk High girls basketball team.
Brown was determined to become the best player in WPIAL Section 2-AA. The section’s coaches thought she was as they selected her as the section’s MVP. Neshannock’s Madison McHale, Riverside’s Alex Deep and Nicole Mansfield and Beaver Falls’ Ayana Vaughn joined her on the first team. In addition, Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare was named the section’s coach of the year for the second-straight season.
BROWN LEADS MOHAWK
Brown led all Lawrence County girls in scoring at 17.0 points per game. She was second in free-throw percentage (79.2) and second in 3-pointers (41). She helped lead Mohawk (15-9) overall to the Section 2-AA title.
The Lady Warriors advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals and reached the PIAA quarterfinals as well.
“Last year, she made the first team and wasn’t MVP, but Alex Deep was. They both returned this year and we had a conversation about Alex being ahead of her, in the eyes of section’s coaches and she had a lot of work to do to pass her,” O’Lare said. “A lot of that recognition comes from team success. She did work her tail off all offseason to get better and which, in turn, made our team better.
“Her whole high school career was about working on her skills. She didn’t play a lot of AAU basketball because of time conflicts with softball. But, she spent 12 months a year just working on her skill work,” O’Lare said. “A lot of kids want to play in AAU games and not focus on individual skill work. She took a different avenue. She’d get in gym and work and work and work and it paid off for her whole career.
“Her work ethic and her leadership are going to be hard to replace. When your best player is your hardest worker, it’s easy for the rest of the kids to get in line and follow her.”
O’Lare helped guide the Lady Warriors to the WPIAL quarterfinals. They dropped a 56-44 decision to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champ Bishop Canevin. In the PIAA tournament, Mohawk made it to the quarterfinals, but fell to Seton-La Salle, 73-45. That tied the program mark for the longest voyage into the PIAA tournament. The 1983 squad reached the same level.
“That coach of the year comes with the success of the team. It’s a great honor because that means your peers respect you. If you have good kids and they work hard, good things happen and they did the last two years for us,” O’Lare said. “I don’t think that is an individual honor, though. My assistants Jared Stratton and Fred Puglia deserve it, too. The amount of time they put in was incredible.
“Now that we are a few weeks away from the end of the season, it still hasn’t sunk in, knowing that, when we finished, that state championship game was just two games away. It was remarkable what they were able to accomplish,” he continued. “When you have seven or eight seniors in that class, you’re going to be successful. If put five senior starters out there every night like we did, then you should have an advantage.”
Seniors Devon Giancola and Paige Ruby earned second-team honors for the Lady Warriors.
“I think Devon’s numbers dipped this year, but they didn’t drop because of lack of performance, but Paige being back after tearing her ACL last year,” O’Lare said. “Devon became a better rebounder and she could play her role. Paige added a whole unique weapon for us. She was a very good post player.”
McHALE’S RETURN LIFTS NESHANNOCK
McHale, a sophomore, led Neshannock as a freshman. However, she moved with her family to Minnesota over the summer. In December, the family moved back and McHale rejoined the Lady Lancers.
The results were positive. McHale worked her way back into the starting lineup and led the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game, which ranked second in Lawrence County and was first in free-throw percentage (87.7). She was fifth with 29 3-pointers.
“It’s well deserved. I thought she was one of the better guards in the section. It says a lot for her and the kids,” Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said. “It was a great addition back to the team, no question. I think the girls were fine with it. She was a part of our program for a good many years and she was welcomed back.
“Maddy not only scored for us, but helped handle the basketball, too. Later in the season, she even rebounded a lot better for us. She made a conscious effort to do that and it really helped her all-around game. She does some good things.”
Her return helped spark the team to a fourth-place finish in the section (6-6). Neshannock (12-12 overall) beat West Shamokin, 47-38, in a WPIAL preliminary round playoff game, but dropped a 65-28 contest to Bishop Canevin in a first round game.
“You always want to make the playoffs and hope you can get a win to get the kids as much playoff experience possible. We can always say we lost to the WPIAL and state champs. I thought we accomplished a lot this year,” Grybowski said. “We were very young this year. We have a good nucleus back and some good young kids coming up, so the future looks good.”
Section 2-AA All-Stars
Shelby Brown, Mohawk, Sr.
Alex Deep, Riverside, Sr.
Ayana Vaughn, Beaver Falls, Sr,
Madison McHale, Neshannock, Soph.
Nicole Mansfield, Riverside
Kaitlyn Hopkins, New Brighton, Sr.
Devon Giancola, Mohawk, Sr.
Paige Ruby, Mohawk, Sr.
Ellen Shaffer, Laurel, Soph.
Tiffany Wright, Beaver Falls, Soph.
Tiffany Vaughn, Beaver Falls, Sr.
MVP — Shelby Brown, Mohawk
Coach of the Year — Mike O’Lare, Mohawk