Matt Stebbins, Ralph Blundo

A collage featuring Laurel coach Matt Stebbins, left, and New Castle High coach Ralph Blundo.

Lawrence County basketball teams got a glimpse of what the future will look like Tuesday.

The WPIAL released the section realignment for boys and girls basketball teams for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons. Sections for girls teams are finalized. However, the boys have hit a small snag.

Lincoln Park is listed in both Class 3A and Class 4A. The WPIAL is awaiting word on the competitive balance rule, which could force the Leopards to climb from Class 3A to Class 4A.

MOVIN' ON UP

New Castle High's boys team moved up to Class 5A after dominating Class 4A for the last 10 years, winning six district titles in that span. The Red Hurricane will be joined in Section 2 by Chartiers Valley, Moon, South Fayette, Trinity and West Allegheny.

"It's a good league," Red Hurricane coach Ralph Blundo said. "The teams in that league have won championships and been successful. In 5A in general, there are some really good basketball programs.

"We expect a high level of basketball and we're looking forward to it."

Chartiers Valley, South Fayette, Trinity and West Allegheny all finished with winning overall records from Section 2-5A last year. Thomas Jefferson, which shifted over to Section 1-5A, also was over .500 to comprise the top five in the league posting winning overall marks last year.

"I think that's an interesting dynamic," Blundo said of the competition. "We've been playing the same teams for a long time, since 2015. It will be nice to disengage from some of that familiarity and play some different teams.

"It's the same for them, too (Section 2-5A teams). They'll be seeing a team in New Castle that they're not familiar with."

Enrollment propelled the 'Canes to Class 5A for basketball. New Castle fans always support the team home and away. The gyms will seat more fans in the new section, but the drives will take longer.

"The travel, the rides are much longer. But, there wasn't any way around it," Blundo said. "We're the northern-most school in 5A by about 45 miles.

"Whether we were at the eastern section, or the western section, there was going to be some travel. Now we have to travel to Trinity, West Allegheny, South Fayette and Chartiers Valley. Those are some long rides. Sure, it's concerning, because we will get home late on a school night. We'll adjust and do what we have to do."

GOING UP

The Laurel and Mohawk boys teams both climb to Class 3A to compete in Section 1. Beaver Falls, Ellwood City Lincoln, Neshannock and Riverside also make up the league. Lincoln Park would remain in this section if the WPIAL keeps the program in Class 3A.

"I'm indifferent in one aspect," Spartans coach Ken Locke said. "With the teams we were playing in 2A, you take a look at a team like OLSH and what they have coming back. I don't think they can get too much better.

"It's good and bad with both ways. Overall, if Lincoln Park does go to 4A, for the most part it's a pretty decent section. You have to like the travel aspect and the rivalry aspect. Those are nice road trips to have with good atmospheres. The kids all know each other. It should be a fun section."

The Section 1-3A landscape will be completed next week, with or without Lincoln Park. But the Spartans are no stranger to facing stiff competition in a strong league.

"That doubles the section in difficulty if Lincoln Park is in with us. But it will be tough enough as it is," Locke said. "We've been in some pretty tough sections. It makes it that much more difficult if they are in it."

STAYING PUT

Shenango's boys squad remains in Class 2A. However, the Wildcats move from Section 3 to Section 1. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Riverview, Sewickley Academy, South Side Beaver and Springdale also comprise Section 1.

The Union boys will remain in Section 1-1A and will square off against such teams as Cornell, Nazareth Prep, Quigley, Rochester and Western Beaver.

New Castle's girls team will stay in Section 2-4A and will face Ambridge, Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, Hopewell, Montour and Quaker Valley.

CHAMPIONSHIP QUALITY

The Laurel girls move up to Class 3A and will play in Section 1 against Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Freedom, Mohawk, North Catholic and Riverside.

"That's where we fall. We were three or four girls over the limit," Lady Spartans coach Matt Stebbins said. "It is what it is according to the numbers.

"We go up into a tough 3A section. Mohawk is the (WPIAL) 3A champs. North Catholic is the (WPIAL) 4A champs. We were in the (WPIAL) 2A championship game. That's quite a section. Three teams in the section that were in the WPIAL championship game."

The Lady Spartans lost in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game to Bishop Canevin last year. They will battle with county rival Mohawk, which won its first WPIAL championship last year, in Class 3A.

"It will be good," Stebbins said of playing county foe Mohawk. "That will be nice to coach against Mike O'Lare again.

"Last year, Northgate, Sto-Rox, we were traveling last year. We'll be staying in northern Beaver County and in Lawrence County. The majority of the trips last year were 45 minutes plus. In terms of travel-wise, it will help."

North Catholic is the four-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champion. The Trojanettes won an appeal to go down to 3A.

"We're going to have to try our best and compete," Stebbins said. "We're one of the smallest 3A girls schools in the state; we have our work cut out and we have to work hard.

"We're looking forward to having bigger crowds at our games. The last two years, we had decent crowds. That will be nice to have better atmospheres to play in, home and road. Our fans always travel well."

NEW SCENERY

The Neshannock girls depart Class 3A and will play in Section 1-2A. The Lady Lancers will battle the likes of Aliquippa, New Brighton, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Sewickley Academy, Shenango and South Side Beaver.

"That's where our enrollment was," Lady Lancers coach Luann Grybowski said. "I couldn't decide on (Class) 3A or (Class) 2A. Then I said 'let's play in our classification (2A).'

"I just wasn't sure if they would make three or four sections. They made four sections."

Dropping down means Neshannock will have a bit more travel than it did when playing in Class 3A.

"I knew there was a chance they could move North Catholic to our section in 3A. That was probably a possibility," she said. "In that sense, I'm glad I'm not up there.

"There is a little more travel in 2A. OLSH and Sewickley Academy. South Side Beaver is a trip. And there's Aliquippa. The only close game we have is Shenango. Everything else is 40 minutes away or more. I'm looking forward to the change and the new challenge."

Union's girls team will remain in Section 1-1A. Bishop Canevin, Cornell, Eden Christian, Quigley and Rochester also are in Section 1-1A.

rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com

Sports Writer

Ron Poniewasz Jr. is a sports writer at the New Castle News. Email him at rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com.

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