CLASS AAAA GIRLS
The teams: Spring-Ford (1-1, 25-2), Manheim Township (3-7, 22-5), Wilson-West Lawn (3-3, 26-3), Mount St. Joseph (1-3, 23-4), Bangor (11-1, 22-6), Cheltenham (1-7, 24-3), Philadelphia Central (12-2, 18-6), Solanco (3-4, 22-5), Archbishop Carroll (12-1, 24-2), Haverford (1-8, 19-8), Downingtown West (1-3, 24-3), Cumberland Valley (3-5, 16-11), Abington Heights (2-1, 22-4), Upper Darby (1-6, 18-9), Central Dauphin (3-2, 16-10), Northeast Philadelphia (12-4, 15-6), Red Lion (3-1, 28-1), Upper Dublin (1-9, 23-5), Council Rock South (1-4, 25-2), Pleasant Valley (11-3, 18-9), North Penn (1-2, 21-6), Governor Mifflin (3-6, 17-8), Bethlehem Liberty (11-2, 16-9), Cardinal O'Hara (12-3, 21-4), Mount Lebanon (7-1, 23-3), State College (6-1, 12-11), Allderdice (8-1, 21-3), Baldwin (7-4, 18-7), Altoona (6-1, 19-4), Oakland Catholic (7-1, 24-2), McDowell (10-1, 17-6), Upper St. Clair (7-3, 14-12)
2011 champion: Mount Lebanon
The outlook: This is an outstanding field, where 17 teams have at least 20 wins and nine have at least 23. There are a couple of really terrific first- round matchups, including 26-3 Wilson of Berks County against 23-4 Mount St. Joseph and District 6 champion Altoona against 24-2 WPIAL runner-up Oakland Catholic.
For the Lady Lions, that first-round matchup could pave the way into the quarterfinals if they can pass the test, because neither McDowell nor Upper St. Clair looks to be on the level of the other two teams in the pod.
Altoona hasn't always been the easiest team to figure out, but when the Lady Lions put it all together like they did in the District 6 finals against State College, they can compete with practically anyone in their side of the bracket - they have the size and the shooting to excel in any type of game, although they are at their best in the higher tempo. Oakland Catholic, which beat Altoona in last year's first round and in Pittsburgh this regular season, would probably be considered a slight favorite over the Lady Lions in this year's tourney, but Altoona could win and find itself against the other top WPIAL power, defending champion Mount Lebanon, in the quarterfinals.
Mount Lebanon should beat State College and have no problem with probable second-round foe Baldwin.
While the Lady Blue Devils are poised to make it back into the state semifinals, though, their road back to the Bryce Jordan Center might end there. Philadelphia Catholic League power Cardinal O'Hara is in the same half of the bracket as Mount Lebanon as the third-place team from District 12 and beat probable tourney favorite Archbishop Carroll in their only head-to-head matchup. The biggest obstacle between the Lady Lions and the semifinals is Mount Union-native Don Dimoff's 28-1 District 3 champion Red Lion squad.
The upper-half of the bracket has some great teams, too. Spring-Ford has a win over O'Hara; it will receive the Wilson/Mount St. Joe's winner. Although just the seventh-place team in District 1, Cheltenham has a very good chance to knock off District 11 champ Bangor in a pretty good first- round matchup and make it to the quarterfinals, but Spring-Ford will probably end its run there.
Barring something unforeseen, Archbishop Carroll has a fairly clear path to the semifinals. Carroll's biggest hurdle will be District 1 consolation winner Downingtown West in the second round.
Mirror's finalists: Archbishop Carroll and Cardinal O'Hara
Mirror's state champion: Archbishop Carroll
CLASS AAA GIRLS
The teams: Lancaster Catholic (3-1, 26-3), Freire Charter (12-4, 18-9), Honesdale (2-1, 22-5), Southern Lehigh (11-3, 23-4), Neumann-Goretti (12-2, 19-6), Nazareth Academy (1-3, 17-9), Allentown Central Catholic (11-1, 26-1), Danville (4-2, 17-8), Malvern Villa Maria (1-1, 21-4), West York (3-5, 20-7), Shamokin (4-1, 19-5), Nanticoke (2-2, 23-3), Palmyra (3-3, 23-4), Bethlehem Catholic (11-2, 23-4), Prep Charter (12-1, 25-3), Susquehanna Township (3-6, 20-6), Oley Valley (3-2, 25-2), Archbishop Wood (12-3, 15-10), Villa Joseph Marie (1-2, 15-10), Camp Hill Trinity (3-4, 20-7), Hollidaysburg (6-1, 15-8), Elizabeth Forward (7-5, 18-5), South Park (7-2, 23-3), Hickory (10-2, 23-3), Hopewell (7-1, 24-2), Mercyhurst Prep (10-3, 24-1), Bradford (9-1, 24-0), Blackhawk (7-4, 22-4), Westinghouse(8-1, 19-5), Chartiers Valley (7-3, 22-3), Franklin (10-1, 24-2), South Fayette (7-6, 17-8)
2011 champion: Archbishop Wood
The outlook: One could argue that for the last couple of years, no classification in the PIAA tournament has been as unpredictable or tumultuous than girls Class AAA, and it promises to be another wild ride this postseason.
For instance, in the bottom half of the bracket, there's an undefeated Bradford team coming out of District 9 that few are taking seriously and could have a chip on its shoulder looking for respect. The Lady Owls, if they beat Blackhawk, have a second- round date with District 7 champ and perennial power Hopewell. District 10 champion Franklin appears to have a reasonably easy path in its bid to return to the state quarterfinals, presumably to face Hopewell.
Hopewell, though, could go out in the first round, where it has to take on once-beaten Mercyhurst Prep, a team that has beaten Class AA power Villa Maria and some out of state teams; the Lady Lakers dropped the District 10 semifinals to Franklin by six but are good enough to play in the state championship.
Hollidaysburg, this year, is in the third quarter bracket, meaning it is in a part of the tournament that is half teams from the western side of the state and half from the east. The Lady Tigers don't have as good a record as they did entering the playoffs last year and aren't as deep, but they still are capable of making some noise because they do possess talent and could very easily have had five more wins against a demanding schedule. Hollidaysburg could get a test in the opening game from Elizabeth Forward, but it should move into the second round against the survivor of South Park and Hickory, the respective District 7 and District 10 runners-up. That would be a winnable game for the Lady Tigers, but they would be an underdog.
If Hollidaysburg does manage to reach the quarterfinals, the likely opponent would be Archbishop Wood of the Philadelphia Catholic League, the team that seems most probable to come out of this quarter-bracket.
Philadelphia Catholic League teams have dominated the top half of the bracket in recent years, but that run should be put to the test this time around by the likes of Allentown Central Catholic, Lancaster Catholic, Philly Villa Maria, Bethleham Catholic and, above all, Prep Charter, led by McDonald's All-American Kahleah Copper. Prep Charter actually won District 12 this year and is the odds-on favorite to represent the top half of the bracket at Penn State.
Allentown Central will get the first legitimate shot to knock off this year's Catholic League power, Neumann-Goretti, in the second round, with the winner of that set to meet Lancaster Catholic.
Prep Charter's path to the semifinals probably includes Bethlehem Catholic (second round) and Villa Maria (quarterfinals).
Mirror's finalists: Prep Charter and Franklin
Mirror's state champion: Franklin
CLASS AA GIRLS
The teams: Carver Engineering & Sciences (12-1, 16-5), Lancaster Mennonite (3-3, 20-8), Montrose (2-1, 24-2), Wyalusing Valley (4-2, 22-3), Pine Grove (11-1, 17-7), New Hope-Solebury (1-2, 13-12), Delone Catholic (3-2, 21-5), South Williamsport (4-3, 22-3), York Catholic (3-1, 25-3), Imhotep Charter (12-3, 16-5), Christopher Dock Mennonite (1-1, 19-5), Dunmore (2-2, 23-4), Philadelphia Bishop McDevitt (12-2, 1-18), Minersville (11-2, 7-18), Mount Carmel (4-1, 25-0), Mid-Valley (2-3, 17-11), Seton-LaSalle (7-1, 25-0), Greenville (10-3, 21-4), Comemaugh Township (5-1, 23-2), Richland 6-2, 19-7), Girard (10-2, 20-4), Steel Valley (7-4, 19-6), Cranberry (9-1, 23-1), Beaver Falls (7-5, 15-10), Forest Hills (6-1, 24-2), Tussey Mountain (5-2, 19-6), Keystone Oaks (7-3, 19-7), Moniteau (9-2, 14-10), Bishop Canevin Catholic (7-2, 21-5), Blairsville (6-3, 21-4), Erie Villa Maria (10-1, 21-4), Avonworth (7-6, 19-5)
2011 champion: Erie Villa Maria
The outlook: Traditionally, this has become Villa Maria versus York Catholic. While those teams still could meet up in University Park again, it's a little less likely and will require a little more heavy lifting this season, now that they've graduated stars Kayla McBride and Kady Schrann to Division I college programs.
In fact, it would be an upset for Villa, the three-time defending champion to make it back to the BJC at all.
A new power has emerged out of the WPIAL: Seton-LaSalle. After falling to Villa handily in last year's semifinals, the Lady Rebels seem to have come back determined to make amends. Seton-LaSalle is undefeated, and that includes wins over District 7 Class AAAA finalists Mount Lebanon and Oakland Catholic.
The Lady Rebels shouldn't have any problems with Greenville and St. Francis recruit Brooklyn Taylor in the first round or whoever emerges from the Johnstown-area clash of District 5 champion Conemaugh Township and upstart District 6 runner-up Richland in the second. Then, it's on to a quarterfinal encounter with either District 10 runner-up Girard or District 9 champion Cranberry.
Villa Maria probably will face Seton-LaSalle in the semifinals, but Forest Hills, Keystone Oaks and Canevin all could throw a monkey wrench into that.
York Catholic once again is the District 3 champion. The Fighting Irish appear to be looking at a showdown with surprising 2011 finalist Dunmore in the second round. The winner of that could be set to square off against Mount Carmel, Minersville or Mid-Valley, the team that upset York Catholic in last year's semis; Mount Carmel is undefeated, but the Lady Tornadoes don't play as demanding a schedule since they left the Schuylkill League - they beat Minersville earlier this season by three.
However, the pick here to advance to the finals is Delone Catholic. The Squirettes have been the bridesmaid to York Catholic for the last few years, and this is McDonald's All-American Sierra Moore's last chance to reach the finals. Although York Catholic won the last two head-to-head meetings, Delone was most convincing in winning the first, and look for it to find a way to make it to the championship game.
Delone will have to beat South Williamsport and superstar Tierney Pfirman in the first round but shouldn't have to break much of a sweat until a potential quarterfinal game against either Montrose or Lancaster Mennonite.
Mirror's finalists: Delone Catholic and Seton-LaSalle
Mirror's state champion: Seton-LaSalle
CLASS A GIRLS
The teams: Lebanon Catholic (3-1, 19-6), Muncy (4-4, 17-8), Old Forge (2-1, 17-6), Morrisville (1-2, 23-2), Line Mountain (4-2, 24-1), Marian Catholic (11-2, 19-6), Math, Civics & Sciences (12-1, 10-7), Harrisburg Christian (3-3, 23-4), Tri-Valley (11-1, 26-0), New Media Tech (12-2, 10-6), Lourdes Regional (4-1, 22-3), Steelton-Highspire (3-2, 23-3), Cowanesque Valley (4-3, 18-7), Conemaugh Valley (6-3, 18-7), Delaware County Christian (1-1, 14-11), Forest City (2-2, 13-11), Vincentian (7-1, 25-1), Kane (9-4, 19-7), Southern Fulton (5-1, 25-1), Elk County Catholic (9-3, 23-4), Clarion (9-2, 21-4), Homer-Center (6-2, 21-4), Kennedy Catholic (10-1, 20-3), Riverview (7-4, 16-8), Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (6-1, 23-2), Saegertown (10-3, 17-8), Fort Cherry (7-3, 23-2), Berlin Brothersvalley (5-1, 23-3), Pittsburgh North Catholic (7-2, 20-6), Conneaut Valley (10-2, 20-4), Keystone (9-1, 25-1), Winchester Thurston (7-5, 13-10)
2011 champion: Steelton-Highspire
The outlook: Bishop Guilfoyle's been on an amazing run the last five years, going to four state finals and winning three of them. There's no reason to believe the beat won't go on in 2012.
Despite actually losing two games in the regular season (to Class AA Delone Catholic and Forest Hills) and all-starter Halee Adams still a bit of an uncertainty with only 11 games under her belt after knee surgery, this Lady Marauder team might have more upside than last year's. First, it has an extra year's experience. Second, Altoona transfer Courtney Becker has given BG a true forward in the lineup. Third, Adams' unavailability allowed some depth to develop and enabled Kayla Bates to step up and become a more assertive offensive performer. The Lady Marauders still are exceptional on defense, especially with their big guards disrupting opposing offenses at their inception.
Guilfoyle's path won't be easy. Although Saegertown doesn't seem to match up especially well in the first round, likely second-round foe Fort Cherry gave the Lady Marauders all they could handle in last year's quarterfinals, and potential quarterfinal opponent North Catholic always is a threat; District 9 champion Keystone, while 26-1, is probably a little too young to challenge yet.
With apologies to Southern Fulton, the three teams most likely to oppose Guilfoyle in the semifinals are District 7 champ Vincentian, District 6 runner-up Homer-Center and District 10 winner Kennedy Catholic. Vincentian and Homer, the semifinalists the past two years, are proven commodities. Kennedy, once a top program that has fallen off in the last decade, is a wild card that could be on its way back; the Lady Eagles have been absolutely crushing teams in the last two months.
The top of the bracket is a three-horse race with District 3 champ Lebanon Catholic likely to meet either undefeated Tri-Valley or 2011 PIAA champion Steelton-Highspire and reigning player of the year Malia Tate-DeFreitas in the other. Delco Christian derailed a Steel-High/Tri-Valley showdown last year, but it looks like these trains are on a definite collision course this postseason.
Mirror's finalists: Tri-Valley and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic
Mirror's state champion: Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic