CLASS AAAA GIRLS
The teams: North Penn (1-1, 24-3), Lebanon (3-7, 21-7), Wallenpaupack (2-1, 21-3), Northampton (11-3, 15-12), West Chester Rustin (1-4, 22-6), Manheim Township (3-4, 27-2), Parkland (11-1, 18-8), Central Bucks East (1-8, 16-10), Archbishop Carroll (12-1, 14-9), Garnet Valley (1-9, 26-2), Cumberland Valley (3-3, 23-5), Central Bucks West (1-5, 21-6), Mount St. Joseph (1-3, 26-3), Cardinal O'Hara (12-3, 17-8), Dover (3-2, 24-3), Bishop Shanahan (1-7, 21-7), Wilson-West Lawn (1-7, 22-7), Methacton (1-10, 20-9), Pocono Mountain West (11-2, 19-8), Abington (1-6, 19-7), Spring-Ford (1-2, 23-6), Red Lion (3-5, 17-9), Northeast Philadelphia (12-2, 17-5), Mechanicsburg (3-6, 22-6), Penn-Trafford (7-1, 20-6), North Allegheny (7-4, 22-2), State College (6-1, 17-7), Mount Lebanon (7-5, 16-6), Obama Academy (8-1, 14-6), Hempfield (7-2, 17-9), McDowell (10-1, 17-7), Fox Chapel (7-3, 19-5)
2013 champion: Spring-Ford
The outlook: Philadelphia area teams typically rule the roost here, and what a crop of them there are from which to choose. Mount St. Joseph's was rated as the top Class AAAA team in the state at one point, and it only finished third in District 1. North Penn ousted defending state champion Spring-Ford, which returned its best player, by 12 in the district championship game. Archbishop Carroll, the District 12 champion, finished third in the powerful Catholic League behind two lower classification juggernauts. Its first round opponent is District 1 ninth-place finisher Garnet Valley, which is only 26-2.
Throw in good Central Bucks West and Cardinal O'Hara teams, and you can see why this might be another Philadelphia party.
North Penn appears to have a favorable draw into the semifinals, facing Lebanon, Northampton and likely West Chester Rustin, the fourth seed from District 1. The other quarterfinalist is more tricky to predict. Mount St. Joseph looks like a reasonable prediction, but it also could bite the dust in the very first round against O'Hara. The winner of that game, though, seems to have a good chance to make it through to the quarters. However, the other pod not only includes Carroll and Garnet Valley, but Cumberland Valley and Central Bucks West. We favor Carroll to get to the next step.
The bottom half of the bracket features Spring-Ford and District 3 champ Wilson, who appear to be on a quarterfinal collision course that appears to be a meeting of the top two teams in that side.
The bottom quarter of the bracket is highlighted by a first-round pairing of WPIAL champ Penn-Trafford and 22-2 North Allegheny; don't be shocked if the lower seed prevails and then takes down perennial power Mount Lebanon, which meets State College, in the second round.
Hempfield and Fox Chapel look like a strong bet to meet in the second round, and, again, the lower seed just might be the team that advances. However, none of the west teams looks quite as good on paper as Spring-Ford and Wilson.
Mirror's finalists: North Penn and Spring-Ford
Mirror's state champion: North Penn
CLASS AAA GIRLS
The teams: Archbishop Wood (12-1, 22-3), Berks Catholic (3-6, 19-7), Malvern Villa Maria (1-2, 15-11), Lancaster Catholic (3-3, 25-3), Bethlehem Catholic (11-1, 24-3), Bonner-Predergast (12-3, 19-6), Scranton Prep (2-1, 25-1), Danville (4-2, 21-3), West Perry (3-1, 21-5), Freire Charter (12-4, 13-12), Abington Heights (2-2, 16-10), Allentown Central Catholic (11-2, 23-4), Mifflinburg (4-1, 20-5), Holy Redeemer (2-3, 21-5), Radnor (1-1, 14-12), Fleetwood (3-4, 23-5), Susquehannock (3-2, 23-5), Palmyra (3-5, 22-4), Mastery Charter North (12-2, 15-9), Merion Mercy (1-3, 15-12), Huntingdon (6-1, 19-5), Mount Pleasant (7-5, 15-9), Bradford (9-1, 21-2), Elizabeth Forward (7-4, 20-4), Blackhawk (7-1, 23-2), Mercyhurst Prep (10-3, 19-6), West Mifflin (7-3, 18-6), Erie Villa Maria (10-2, 21-3), South Park (7-2, 21-5), Washington Trinity (7-6, 17-7), Hickory (10-1, 25-0), Johnstown (6-2, 11-14)
2013 champion: South Park
The outlook: Defending champion South Park still is in the mix here, but it was displaced as District 7 champion by Blackhawk this year. It looks like it could be a fight between those two WPIAL powers and the top two seeds from District 10 - Hickory and Villa Maria - to determine both the bottom quarter of the bracket and the finalist from the western half (which includes some schools from eastern districts).
Interestingly, Blackhawk and Villa could meet in the second round but have some potentially difficult assignments in the first. Blackhawk will need to dispatch District 10 consy winner Mercyhurst Prep, no stranger to deep state playoff runs itself, while Villa Maria gets WPIAL third seed West Mifflin. How those games turn out might give us a good idea of whether Blackhawk or Hickory should be favored in the event they meet down the road. If one were to pick it now, it would go to Blackhawk on schedule strength.
Hickory lost to South Park in last year's PIAA opening round, and it looks very likely it will have a shot at redemption in this year's second round. South Park's played a very demanding schedule this year, and would be our pick to win a rematch with Hickory. So we're probably looking at an all-WPIAL quarterfinal between Blackhawk and South Park - Blackhawk prevailed in the District 7 championship by seven.
District 6 winner Huntingdon is part of the top quarter of the western side of the bracket. The Lady Bearcats haven't been this far in a long time, and will have a real chore ahead if they're to beat Mount Pleasant in the first round. Look for Elizabeth Forward to knock out District 9 champ Bradford and then beat Mount Pleasant to reach the quarterfinals, where it probably will meet Susquehannock but also might come across darkhorse Merion Mercy.
The two teams that jump out at you in the top half of the bracket are Philadelphia Catholic League power Archbishop Wood and District 11 champion Bethlehem Catholic, who could cross paths in the quarterfinals. Of course, to do that, BeCaHi will need to beat another Catholic League team, Bonner-Prendergast, in one of the best opening-round pairings in any bracket.
The bottom quarter of the top half of the bracket lacks a real power, but Allentown Central Catholic and Holy Redeemer has the makings of an entertaining third round game. ACC has the history, but we'll the dice and say Redeemer makes it happen here.
Mirror's finalists: Archbishop Wood and Blackhawk
Mirror's state champion: Archbishop Wood
CLASS AA GIRLS
The teams: Neumann-Goretti (12-1, 25-0), Camp Hill (3-3, 18-7), Minersville (11-1, 25-1), Central Columbia (4-2, 15-10), Delone Catholic (3-2, 20-5), Holy Cross (2-2, 19-8), St. Basil (1-1, 21-5), Ben Franklin (12-3, 12-3), York Catholic (3-1, 23-4), Philadelphia Academy (12-4, 11-5), Dunmore (2-1, 24-2), Warrior Run (4-3, 21-6), Imhotep Charter (12-2, 22-3), Salisbury (11-2, 17-8), Mount Carmel (4-1, 23-4), Montrose (2-3, 20-5), Seton-LaSalle (7-1, 22-4), Blairsville (6-1, 23-2), Mercer (10-2, 18-6), Greensburg Central Catholic (7-4, 19-5), Bishop Canevin (7-3, 19-6), Juniata (6-2, 22-3), Karns City (9-1, 24-1), Girard (10-3, 19-6), Bellwood-Antis (6-1, 24-2), McGuffey (7-6, 20-4), Burrell (7-2, 25-1), Clarion-Limestone (9-2, 16-9), Tussey Mountain (5-1, 23-1), Our Lady of Sacred Heart (7-5, 16-8), General McLane (10-1, 22-3), Neshannock (7-7, 22-2)
2013 champion: Bishop Canevin
The outlook: Neumann-Goretti's presence makes this probably the least competitive bracket of the eight this year. Goretti's won all 25 of its games this year, playing some of the best competition a Class AA school could face this season, and only four of those games were determined by single figures. Goretti has a 6-foot-9 center and the core of its team plays AAU ball together.
So let's just get this out of the way and just say Goretti will beat Camp Hill, Minersville and the Delone Catholic/St. Basil winner to move into the semifinals.
OK, so who does Goretti play then? We'll get back to that in a moment.
Before we do that, let's see where area teams Bellwood-Antis and Tussey Mountain stack up in the other side of the bracket. Both have more competitive opening round games than one might anticipate for district champions. Bellwood starts off with a McGuffey team that reached states last year and has an all-state player who averages more than 23 points per game. If the Lady Devils pass that test, they get Burrell, the team that knocked them out of the state playoffs last year and appears to be, like B-A, improved.
The Tussey girls are 23-1, and it's fair to stop being surprised by a team that wins convincingly even if it doesn't do it in a particularly pretty manner sometimes. Our Lady of Sacred Heart will present a challenge, but we like Tussey's chances to get through the first round. Should the Lady Titans advance, the next round will be interesting, because District 10 champion General McLane is 22-3 and its first-round opponent, Neshannock, is 22-2; it might be the best record of second round foes in the entire PIAA tournament.
While B-A and Tussey both could get to the semifinals, there are some really powerhouse teams looming at that point. The top quarter of the western half of the bracket includes WPIAL champ Seton-LaSalle along with defending state champ Bishop Canevin. Seton-LaSalle has beaten Canevin three times this year, all by double figures, so it's fair to say it's the favorite. It has an interesting first-round game with Blairsville but it should survive that as well as its probable second round game against Greensburg Central Catholic. Canevin's biggest hurdle looks like Karns City, but KC could get taken out by Girard on Round 1.
OK, now back to who meets Goretti in the other semifinal. It's probably going to be one of two very familiar names in this bracket, either York Catholic or Dunmore. They're on a path to face in the second round, and none of the four teams in the other pod look like a good bet to derail them in the quarters.
However, this is Goretti's tournament to lose. Or, more likely, to dominate.
Mirror's finalists: Neumann-Goretti and Seton-LaSalle
Mirror's state champion: Neumann-Goretti
CLASS A GIRLS
The teams: Steelton-Highspire (3-1, 10-16), St. John Neumann (4-3, 17-8), Parkway West (12-1, 7-4), Jenkintown (12-2, 19-7), Old Forge (2-1, 20-3), Harrisburg Christian (3-2, 25-2), Marian Catholic (11-1, 24-2), Northeast Bradford (4-2, 20-5), Millville (4-1, 24-0), Upper Dauphin (3-4, 13-13), Phil-Mont Christian (1-1, 23-4), Shenandoah Valley (11-2, 15-10), Halifax (3-2, 19-6), Math, Civics and Science (12-2, 13-5), Shade (5-2, 21-5), Bishop Carroll (6-4, 11-12), Vincentian (7-1, 22-3), Port Allegany (9-3, 23-1), Portage (6-2, 23-2), Berlin Brothersvalley (5-3, 21-4), Keystone (9-2, 18-8), Claysburg-Kimmel (6-3, 20-5), Kennedy Catholic (10-1, 21-2), California (7-4, 19-4), Bishop Guilfoyle (6-1, 20-5), Venango Catholic (9-4, 19-6), Serra Catholic (7-2, 23-3), Cochranton (10-2, 19-5), Southern Fulton (5-1, 23-3), Quigley Catholic (7-3, 18-6), Clarion (9-1, 20-6), Frazier (7-5, 16-6)
2013 champion: Tri-Valley
The outlook: For more than a decade, the path to a PIAA Class A girls title went through District 6, which often opposed itself in the semis or even in the championship game.
Vincentian of District 7, though, got out of the west in 2013, and the Lady Royals look like they even have a firmer grip on the favorite's role this time around.
Vincentian figures to get a couple of quick tests with first-round opponent Port Allegany and potential second-round foe Portage both boasting better records than the Lady Royals, albeit against probably lesser competition - they are a combined 46-3. Portage does seem to have a chemistry about it that it could find a groove and do some great things in the tournament, including unseat the defending champ, and the Lady Mustangs, in losing to Bishop Guilfoyle in the District 6 title game on a desperation buzzer-beater, might have gotten a shot of incentive and confidence. They open against Berlin Brothersvalley, which knocked them off in the opening game last year after they lost in the 6-A final and then lost to Vincentian by just two, its closest game before losing to Tri-Valley in the state final.
Speaking of Guilfoyle, the bracket shapes up in a pretty familiar way for the youthful Lady Marauders, who, if they avoid stumbling against Venango Catholic, could see the Serra Catholic and Clarion teams they bested in the second and third rounds last year.
Claysburg-Kimmel, by the way, is in a pod that could lend itself to getting to a quarterfinal round meeting with Vincentian or Portage, although District 10 champ Kennedy Catholic in the second round would provide a good-sized hurdle.
Another area team is competing in the top half of the bracket. Bishop Carroll will go against District 5 runner-up Shade. Carroll's size and competition during the regular season would seem to give the Lady Huskies a good shot at pulling the perceived upset, which would get them into the second round in another winnable situation with the Halifax/Math, Civics & Science winner. If BC gets through that, it's probably either undefeated Millville or District 11 runner-up Shenandoah Valley - District 11 has a history in the east similar to that of District 6 in the west when it comes to turning out Class A state title contenders.
Looking at the top quarter of the bracket, it appears the winner of a second round game between District 2 champion Old Forge and District 11 winner Marian Catholic has the upper hand to make it to the semifinals.
Mirror's finalists: Marion Catholic and Vincentian
Mirror's state champion: Vincentian