High hopes for Mars
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Eagle Staff Writer
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December 6, 2017
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Mars guard/forward Bella Pelaia (33), seen here in a WPIAL Class 5A playoff game last February against Oakland Catholic, is one of several talented players returning for the Planets’ girls basketball team this season.

With a pair of three-year starters returning and a strong supporting cast, Mars’ girls basketball team is hoping to be playing late into the winter.

The Planets went 18-8 last season, reaching the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals and PIAA second round.

Senior swing player Lauren Wasylson (16 points and 6.2 rebounds per game) and junior point guard Tai Johnson (16 ppg.) are the leaders of the group, though the excitement surrounding the team has been tempered a bit due to Johnson’s leg injury suffered earlier this fall.

“If you have two 3-year starters on the floor, practices go smoother,” said Planet coach Dana Petruska. “You’re able to get more done because it’s like having two other coaches on the court.”

Until Tai Johnson returns, her younger sister, Alek, will handle the duties of point guard. Though just a freshman, Petruska doesn’t believe the varsity game will be too much for Alek Johnson.

“She’s confident and doesn’t try to do too much,” she said. “She’s also tenacious on defense.”

Two other players who started last year are back as well — senior guard Nichole Sommers and sophomore swing player Bella Pelaia. The latter averaged nine points and nearly six rebounds per game.

Junior forward Regan Kramm is slotted as the fifth starter.

A host of players should be able to contribute off the bench, including guards Ellie Coffield, Olivia Lockette, Rachel Bobko and Haylee Fredericks and forwards Mara Fuller, Daria Hockenberry, Caroline Barent and Cassie Mueller.

“We can put in a lot of kids who won’t hurt us,” Petruska said. “They are able to handle the ball well and play defense.”

The Planets recently took part in a scrimmage involving North Allegheny, Kennedy Catholic and Ambridge.

“Those are the caliber of teams we’ll be facing in the playoffs if we make it,” added Petruska. “I asked the girls afterward if they did what they needed to do and they admitted that they didn’t. It showed them that we haven’t arrived at anything yet, but we’ll keep working.”

Seneca Valley

Coach: Rob Lombardo, 9th season

Last year: 9-14, reached WPIAL Class 6A playoffs

The Raiders’ top returning players will see a switch in roles this season.

Point guard McKenna Gross and swing players Karlie Martin and Gretchen Koken filled supporting roles last year on a team led by the graduated Erin Danik and Michaela Lamont.

Now the trio find themselves as the leaders.

“They all have experience and it’s going to come down to how well they step into leadership roles,” Lombardo said.

“McKenna was thrown into the fire as a freshman, so she’s a three-year starter. A good portion of our scoring will have to come from her and Gretchen. We will need other players to pick up the rest.”

Danik (6-foot-2), now playing at Fairmont State, and Jorden Jamieson (6-0) pulled down a lot of rebounds last season between them.

“We’re not as big as we were last year and we’re not looking for one player to fill that (rebounding) role. It has to be several players.

“I think we can defend well with this group.”

Sophomore guard Haley Cramer and sophomore forward Madelyn Karchut, who will bring size to the lineup at 6-foot-1, should both figure prominently in SV’s fortunes this season. The Raiders have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs the last four seasons.

Their section opponents include North Allegheny — which is ranked No. 1 in the state — Butler, Pine-Richland, North Hills and Shaler.

“A team like Butler with a bunch of seniors could give us some trouble,” said Lombardo. “I think it’s going to be a struggle between us, Pine-Richland and Shaler to get to the playoffs.”

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic

Coach: Molly Rottmann, 20th season

Last year: 25-3, won WPIAL Class 4A title and reached PIAA quarterfinals

Saying the Trojanettes have big shoes to fill would be a major understatement.

The team graduated Sam Breen, a two-time state player of the year who averaged 23.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior. Also gone is Kylie Huffman and her 11 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest.

The two frontcourt stars are both playing in college at Penn State University and Carnegie Mellon, respectively.

“That will be our biggest task this season: how do we replace all of that scoring, rebounding and defense,” said Rottmann. “Plus, the intangibles — the leadership and presence on the floor.

“The early going might be a little rough for us. We might take a few lumps, but that’s OK,” Rottmann said. “I believe this team can add to the strong tradition that we have.”

The cupboard, however, is far from bare. The Trojanettes return veteran point guard Ashley Robbins, forward Dani Short and do-everything sophomore Tess Myers from last year’s starting lineup.

Short put up 6.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in 2016-17 while playing superb defense.

Myers, who can play both guard positions and at small forward, contributed 10.6 points and four rebounds as a freshman.

“The next step for Tess is to be more consistent overall,” Rottmann said. “She does a lot of things well and just needs to let the game come to her.”

Other key players will include guards Cassie Foster, Emma Pospisil, Zakaria Karanikos, swing player Kylee Lewandowski and forward Amanda Bucklew.

As a freshman at Butler last season, Lewandowski knocked down 46 three-pointers.

“She’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen and has the speed to go with it,” Rottmann said. “She’s done a great job of fitting in.”