The Greater Latrobe girls’ basketball team entered the final week of the 2018-19 regular season with an opportunity to earn a playoff berth.
The Lady Wildcats came up short against Woodland Hills and Penn-Trafford, however, and missed the postseason as a result.
With seven letter-winners back in the fold, Greater Latrobe appears poised to contend once again, but head coach Mark Burkardt believes his team will have two new elements this season — depth and size. That combination gives Burkardt, in his fifth year guiding the program, options on how to approach each contest.
“We’re going to do a little bit of everything,” he said in regards to style of play.
“In the off-season, we’ve been able to play fast, and we’ve been able to play slow. We’re going to dictate the pace of the game to what we think is going to be advantageous to us.”
Burkardt could deploy six players who are at least 5-foot-8, including Anna Rafferty, who started as a freshman last season and averaged 9 points and 7 rebounds. Rafferty, a 6-foot-1 forward, is joined by junior Rachel Ridilla as returning starters. Ridilla, a 5-foot-8 guard, led the team in scoring in 2018-19 at 14.6 points per game.
The other starters from last season’s team have graduated, however, as guard Carly Augustine, point guard Bethany Havrilla and forward Kayla White have all moved on.
Augustine, who is now playing volleyball at St. Vincent College, ranked second on the Wildcats in scoring last season, providing 13.5 points per game.
Lex Pynos, the lone senior on the team, is slated to replace Augustine as a starting guard.
“She’s a little bit taller than Carly was, but she’s probably as fast. I think she should be able to step into that spot and help us there,” Burkardt said.
Pynos also will be counted on to provide leadership this campaign.
“Lex has taken over a good leadership role on the team,” Burkardt added, noting that she and Ridilla were voted captains by the players.
Furthermore, junior Lexi Weatherton and sophomore Bailey Watson, both of whom saw action last year, are competing to fill Havrilla’s void. Havrilla dished out more than six assists per game for GL last year, though, and that production won’t be easy to replace.
“Her loss is going to be one of the biggest, because she was our point guard for three years,” Burkardt detailed.
A pair of juniors, Ava Vitula and Alexis McNeil, also return after earning minutes last year. In addition, two newcomers appear likely to make an impact, as sophomore guard/forward Lizzie Planinsek and freshman forward Emma Blair have opened eyes with their skills.
Planinsek has proven her versatility, as she can play in the post or on the perimeter. She also displays strengths in rebounding and defending, which has allowed her to earn the trust of Burkardt.
“Those two attributes are going to help her see the floor quite a bit this year,” he stated. “That’s something that we talked about after last year that we felt we had to get better at — rebounding and defense.”
Blair, meanwhile, is already 6-foot, and her ability to play inside could allow her to follow a similar path into the starting lineup as Rafferty. Other varsity players include sophomores Samantha Burkhard, Lexie Planinsek, and Abby Shearer, as well as freshmen Paityn Bauer, Camille Dominick, Ramiya Henderson, Emily Schrum and Josie Straigis.
“I think there are probably 12 or 14 girls who can fight for the top eight spots,” Burkardt explained. “This year, my job will probably be the hardest that I’ve ever had, because of the competition between the girls to see who is going to play.
“I think the lineup could change game by game. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s also a little harder than knowing who your five are every night.”
After a fifth-place finish last season in Class 5A Section 3, Burkardt said that his players are looking forward to the matchups against the teams that finished ahead of them — Oakland Catholic, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and Penn-Trafford. While Burkardt called Woodland Hills the favorite, he noted that the section, which also includes Albert Gallatin, Laurel Highlands, and Uniontown, appears to be wide open.
“I believe that almost every team in this section can beat another team in any given night,” he said.
However, Burkardt revealed that his team doesn’t yet have its sights set on winning a section title or making the playoffs. Rather, they are looking to simply win each possession of each game.
“The main goal that we want is consistency of effort, both physical and mental,” Burkardt added. “There’s been times this off-season that we had that, and we look like we can beat anybody. And when we don’t have that, we struggled.”
Greater Latrobe will commence its season as part of the Indiana Area Tipoff Tournament Dec. 6-7. The first section game is the following week, as the Lady Wildcats host Albert Gallatin on Dec. 12.
Greater Latrobe RosterSeniors
— Lex Pynos (5-10).
— Alexis McNeil (5-9), Rachel Ridilla (5-9), Ava Vitula (5-5), Lexi Weatherton (5-3).
— Samantha Burkhard (5-8), Lexie Planinsek (5-4), Lizzie Planinsek (5-8), Anna Rafferty (6-1), Abby Shearer (5-6), Bailey Watson (5-6).