When the lights shined brightest, Neshannock High’s Neleh Nogay was there to answer the call.
Against a stingy Shady Side Academy team in the WPIAL Class 3A final at Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center, the speedy guard kept the Lady Lancers in the game right out of the gate, scoring five of her team’s 11 first-quarter points. Then in the clutch with a one point lead, Nogay tallied four points — including two free throws — in the final 25.1 seconds to put the finishing touches on a 47-42 victory, the first district title in Neshannock High girls basketball history. She finished with a team-high 17 points.
While the performance might have been extra significant since Nogay is just a freshman, she’s regarded as anything but such by her teammates and coaches.
“Going into the year you never know what you’re going to get out of a freshman,” Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said. “You don’t know how much they’re going to grow, how much they’re going to learn. She has been just like a sponge and has taken everything in stride. I think she’s grown leaps and bounds from the first three or four games and has done everything I’ve asked and more.
“She does things in games when you think, ‘Wow.’ Then the next game she does more.”
Nogay scored a team-high 14 points to lead Neshannock to a 42-38 victory over Tyrone in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs on Friday night. For her efforts, she has been selected as the Lawrence County High School Athlete of the Week sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff. She followed up Friday’s performance with a game-high 20 points in the Lady Lancers’ 60-37 rout of Avonworth last night in the Class 3A second round.
She’s been put in situations above her grade level all season. Whether that’s running the offense in crunch time of a WPIAL playoff game or being one of the players Grybowski brought to the post-game news conference to speak with reporters after winning the school’s first district championship.
“It’s been pretty easy because the upperclassmen have been helping me through everything,” Nogay said of her transition to varsity hoops. “They guide me through everything.”
Grybowski said she had a pregame talk with Nogay before the WPIAL title game to make sure her nerves were OK.
“I kind of pulled her aside and said, ‘Listen, you have to go back through the season and think of the games you were most successful and did the things right. You have to think of it as one of those games. It’s just another game. Just continue to do what you do,’” Grybowski said. “I hope that helped her because I didn’t want her to be exceptionally nervous. She played extremely well.”
Neleh is a daughter of Johanna and Don Nogay, and comes from an athletic family. Don is a 2011 inductee into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame and 1989 Union High School graduate. He’s the Scotties’ all-time leading scorer (1,592 points; 14th-most by a boys player in the county) and helped the team to the WPIAL title game as a senior. Don Nogay Sr., Neleh’s grandfather, is a 2003 inductee into the historical society’s hall of fame.
Aside from the family history, Nogay has been able to lean on her upperclassmen teammates like her backcourt mate Ellina DeLillo.
“Ellina has really been a really good role model and has helped me with everything so far,” Nogay said. “She’s a good guide because she’s been through it already. She knows what to do in what situation.”
Nogay earlier in the year played the first half of the Lady Lancers’ junior varsity games, essentially to help rid her of nerves and to get warmed up. That playing time, plus playing all four quarters — Nogay hasn’t been on the bench often — means in terms of court experience, it’s easy to consider her no longer a freshman on the floor.
“She played, in essence, six quarters a night. It’s a long season,” Grybowski said. “This is our 26th game (Tuesday) and she’s played all played 32 minutes with the exception of one game — that was the Mohawk game here at home, she was out for a little bit. Other than that, that was it.”
With Neshannock set to graduate two veteran starters — two-time defending Section 1-3A player of the year Bella Burrelli and the steady Brie Dean — Nogay’s continued growth is key to the Lady Lancers’ continued success. Grybowski said Nogay is constantly working on her game and that “I think the sky is the limit as far as her abilities go.”
“Her game is solid right now and she’s only going to get better.”