THE SCOOP: For a long time, teams in the eastern half of District 5 and the Sideling Hill League ruled the roost when it came to Class AA girls basketball, but that’s no longer the case.
WestPAC teams — those from Somerset County — have worn the crown the last five years and six of the last seven seasons, often turning back what appeared to be quality entries from Everett and Tussey Mountain.
Everett looks strong again entering this postseason. The Lady Warriors have four starters back from a 2007 PIAA tourney participant as district runner-up last year. Amy Miller and Jess Beegle has picked up their scoring with Andrea Layton being less than 100 percent due to injury, and the team still has 21 wins.
However, the field is brutal. Three other teams have at least 18 wins:
n Conemaugh Township is the defending champion, returning three starters — Megan Maurer, Stephanie Straka and Jamie Gennett — who are all 1,000-point scorers. Maurer is going to Army. Gennett passed up Division I scholarships to play at UPJ.
n North Star beat Township for the WestPAC North title, and Brittany Danel and Nicole Pelesky played big parts on the Lady Cougars’ 5-AA champs in 2005 and 2006. One of North Star’s two losses came by nine points to defending PIAA champ York Catholic, the third-ranked team in the state.
n Windber beat Everett in the Lady Warriors’ Christmas tournament, 48-42. It has a win over Township, and five of its six losses are to teams with at least 20 wins.
Chestnut Ridge is only along for a brief ride with these heavyweights.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Conemaugh Township
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Everett sr. G Amy Miller; Everett soph. G Jess Beegle; North Star sr. G/F Brittany Danel; North Star sr. G Nicole Pelesky; Conemaugh Township sr. C Megan Maurer; Conemaugh Township sr. G Jamie Gennett; Windber soph. G/F Jen Rasko; Chestnut Ridge sr. F Kaci Batzel
MOST INTRIGUING POSSIBLE MATCHUPS: Windber at Everett and Conemaugh Township at North Star in the semifinals; Conemaugh Township or North Star vs. Windber or Everett in the championship
MIRROR’S TEAM TO BEAT: Conemaugh Township
NUMBER OF TEAMS ADVANCING: Two*
WHO THEY’LL PLAY IN INTERDISTRICTS: 5-1 vs. 7-4, 7-8 vs. 5-2
(Note: The runner-up will need to win a play-in game to participate in the first round of the PIAA tournament)
ANALYSIS: As was the case last year, Everett gets a big benefit from being the No. 1 seed, thereby staying away from Township and North Star, whom many consider the top two teams, until the finals.
That means Everett will have to find a way to avenge its holiday loss to Windber. That will mean containing the versatile Rasko and finding a way to score 50 points — five of Windber’s six losses have come when that’s occurred, and the Lady Ramblers have only given up 50 or more seven times.
Windber, which shouldn’t have any problems with Chestnut Ridge, was mortal down the stretch, finishing with three wins in its last seven games. The Lady Warriors beat Windber in last year’s semis by 11 with almost identical personnel for both teams.
The other semi will be the third meeting between Conemaugh Township and North Star. Both teams won at home, Township by 10 and the Lady Cougars by five. The Lady Indians also prevailed in last year’s semifinals.
North Star has been more consistent, but Township has the higher ceiling. Give the Lady Indians the edge to move on and follow in the footsteps of Windber and North Star as repeating 5-AA champs from the WestPAC.