Bella Burrelli almost decided against playing basketball this season.
Thankfully for Neshannock High girls coach Luann Grybowski, Burrelli chose to play out her senior year. An Edinboro University of Pennsylvania volleyball signee, Burrelli is doing just about everything for the Lady Lancers, who are looking to a return to the WPIAL championship game.
“I know I was very hesitant about playing basketball my senior because I have a volleyball scholarship and I would have just played club volleyball,” said Burrelli, who plays with Pittsburgh Elite’s 18 Elite team. “I’m doing both this year and I’m very happy that I am playing basketball this year and got to make my last year the best one.”
Grybowski said Burrelli pulling double duty with volleyball twice a week and some weekend tournament play only makes her basketball production that much more impressive.
“It’s a tribute to her,” Grybowski said. “I very rarely have let kids do that, especially come playoff time, but she is the type of kid who is focused and knows what to do.”
So far so good for Burrelli — a daughter of Mark and Julie Burrelli — and the Lady Lancers. An overtime win on Monday against Blackhawk capped a 20-2 regular season for Neshannock to go along with its outright Section 1-3A title, but the Lady Lancers are also the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 3A bracket.
Last week, Burrelli scored just six points as Neshannock routed Beaver Falls, 73-14, on Tuesday, but she filled up the stat sheet with 10 rebounds and eight assists. She followed that performance up on Thursday as the Lady Lancers routed county Mohawk, turning in a monster double-double of 16 points, 23 rebounds, five steals, four blocks and four assists. For good measure, in Monday’s overtime win against Blackhawk, Burrelli had 29 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and three assists. The win was Neshannock’s 16th in a row.
For her performances over the last week, Burrelli is the Lawrence County High School Athlete of the Week sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
Burrelli plans to major in elementary and special education at Edinboro. During the school day, the National Honor Society member is a teacher assistant at Neshannock Memorial Elementary School working with special needs students.
“She is special beyond words,” Grybowski said. “She does everything and it doesn’t have to be scoring. We’ve had games where she’s scored six or eight. She does what needs to be done and it doesn’t have to be scoring. She’ll come up with big steals or blocked shots, get a ton of rebounds, defend and be in the right spot, make free throws. You name it and she does it. It’s because she’s such a competitor and she doesn’t know how to play any other way but hard and all out.”
That all-out play is a big reason why Neshannock cruised to its section title and a bye into the Class 3A quarterfinals. The Lady Lancers were last in a WPIAL title game in 2017 when the team ran into a hot Bishop Canevin team. Burrelli and fellow senior starter Brie Dean played in that game as sophomores, while current junior Ellina DeLillo was just a freshman. That kind of experience mixed with the energy of freshman guard Neleh Nogay — teammates marvel at her speed — has the Lady Lancers primed for another run to the Petersen Events Center. That’s at least one of the stated goals for the team.
“It will be different this year knowing that year’s past we did have older girls playing more playoff games than younger girls,” Burrelli said, also noting team chemistry is better this year. “Neleh works really hard and there’s not more I can ask of her. Everyone just has to play their game.”
Grybowski said she’s never had a Neshannock team this balanced and that each starter has been in double figures at least a quarter of the games this season.
“I have said in all of my years that’s truly what it takes to be successful and win championships, you seriously need a team effort,” Grybowski said. “Like I said, I can’t say this enough, they have a ‘we’ mentality. They don’t care who scores points. They do what needs to be done and whoever is open gets the ball.”
Neshannock has the rest of this week and all of next week off before playing in the quarterfinals on Feb. 23. Even though it’s a long layoff, Burrelli said it’s welcome. With just two wins between Neshannock and another trip to the WPIAL title game, the Lady Lancers are taking it one game at a time.
The sky is the limit for this group of players, according to Grybowski.
“If they stay focused and we’re playing well at the right time if they stay focused,” Grybowski said, “we’re going to be really hard to beat.”