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Top AAU basketball tournament in town this weekend

Written by Mike White on .

Some top high school basketball players around the country and more than 200 college coaches will be in the Pittsburgh area this weekend for a big AAU tournament.

The Highmark Pittsburgh Jam Fest will be at a number of different schools tonight through Sunday. The event is run by Hoopgroup, a New Jersey-based company that stages top AAU tournaments, runs a summer camp for top prospects and trains players. The Jam Fest tournament director is Mike Rice, the former Rutgers and Robert Morris coach who also serves as team tournaments director for Hoopgroup.

This weekend is a live period for college coaching and a large number of Division I college head coaches and assistants come to the Jam Fest. When the big games come around Saturday night, it won't be unusual to see 100 college coaches in one gym for one of the top games.

"There will be over 250 college coaches here this weekend," said Rice. "A lot of Division I coaches, but some from all levels."

Over 400 teams will play in the Jam Fest in three age divisions, 17 and under, 16 and under and 15 and under. The 17 and under is made up mostly of juniors in high school, the 16s sophomores and the 15s freshmen.

This year, the teams come from 27 different states and also 12 teams from Canada. Teams come from as far away as Arizona (Arizona Warriors) and California (LA Rockfish).

Some of tomorrow's college stars are in the tournament. As an example, three years ago the Harrison twins, who played at Kentucky, were in the tournament. And Kentucky coach John Calipari was here to watch them.

Mt. Lebanon High School, North Hills and Chartiers Valley will serve as the spots for the top games in the 17 and 16 age divisions. On Sunday, Mt. Lebanon and Chartiers Valley will play host to the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals in the 17 and 16 divisions. North Hills will have all top 16 and under winners bracket games Friday and Saturday. 

Eleven high schools overall will host games this weekend, well as a new facility at Southpointe (Friday night only), Chatham University and the Jewish Community Center. Besides Mt. Lebanon, North Hills and Chartiers Valley, other schools being used are Canon-McMillan, Chartiers-Houston, Northgate, Montour, Avonworth, Chatham, Brashear and Carrick.

The tournament also will include a few teams with top WPIAL players in the area. Plum junior James Edwards and Allderdice junior Ramon Creighton are playing for PK Flash.

TTG is a 16 and under team that has Beaver Falls sophomore Josh Creach and Pine-Richland freshman Phil Jurkovec. TTG is coached by former Hempfield standout Nate Perry. Cavemen has a 16-and-under team with North Hills sophomore point guard Nick Smith. 

For a complete schedule that is updated throughout the weekend, go to www.hoopgroup.com and click on the team tournaments tab.

 

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Norwin's Gribble changes her mind, chooses Pitt

Written by Mike White on .

Alayna Gribble, standout girls basketball player at Norwin High School, had already made her college decision. She had made a verbal commitment to William & Mary this past December.

But at last Thursday's Roundball Classic banquet, Norwin coach Brian Brozeski happened to be talking to Upper St. Clair coach Pete Serio about Gribble's recruiting. Gribble had committed during her junior year, but she had played so well this season in leading Norwin to the WPIAL Class AAAA title, that Serio and Brozeski talked about Gribble possibly opening up her recruitment. Serio's wife, Suzie McConnell-Serio, happens to be Pitt's coach.

The next thing you know, four days after the banquet, Gribble was talking to McConnell-Serio. The next thing you know, Gribble was visiting Pitt Tuesday. The next thing you know, Pitt offered her a scholarship Tuesday.

The next thing you know, Gribble accepted the scholarship and committed to Pitt today.

So what started as a simple conversation at the Roundball banquet, ended with Pitt getting a new basketball recruit. Gribble will sign a binding letter of intent with Pitt in November and will begin her college career in the 2016-17 season.

"I'm excited," said Gribble, a 6-foot guard-forward.

Gribble (pictured) said her AAU coaches suggested that she might want to think about opening up her recruitment. Then the Pitt thing happened fast.

"I didn't want to really totally re-open my recruitment," said Gribble. "I would just say I flipped my decision. I didn't re-open everything. ... I thought it through and called William & Mary's coaches today and told them."

Gribble said two reasons she has decided to attend Pitt are because the Panthers play at a higher level than William & Mary, and also because of the chance to play for McConnell-Serio. But Gribble said academics also played a role in her decision. And this isn't just lip service to academics. Gribble has a 3.9 grade-point average.

"I'm thinking about changing my major and doing something more with a science base, or engineering or pharmacy," said Gribble. "William & Mary doesn't have that. They're know more as a business school."

Besides averaging 18.6 points a game this past season, Gribble averaged 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals a game. She shot 44 percent from the field and made 36 3-pointers. She has 1,251 career points.

Gribble was selected to the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5.

McConnell resigns

North Allegheny is looking for a new girls basketball coach. Sherri McConnell has resigned after eight seasons. McConnell told her players and parents that she wants to spend more time with her family.

McConnell played at North Allegheny before playing at Duquesne University. She was North Allegheny's coach for eight seasons and was highly successful in recent years, winning 20 games or more four of the past five seasons.

McConnell's total record was 147-48 and she was 106-21 the past five seasons.

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Two WPIAL coaches, two wrestlers get national attention ..... About PIAA's 6A proposals

Written by Mike White on .

The past two days have been a time for WPIAL coaches and individuals to get some national attention.

On Monday, Mt. Lebanon's girls basketball coach Dori Oldaker was named the coach of the USA Basketball Under 16 National Team. It is quite an honor for Oldaker, who will coach some of the top girls high school players in the country. Oldaker (picture from USA Basketball) has won five PIAA titles in her years as coach at Blackhawk and Mt. Lebanon, but she has experience coaching USA Basketball.  She coached the USA to a gold medal in the 2014 U.S. Youth Olympic Games Women's Three on Three Tournament.

Then today, Franklin Regional wrestling coach Eric Mausser was named the all-USA Coach of the Year by USA Today. Mausser had one of the best teams in WPIAL history this past season. The Panthers won a second consecutive PIAA team championship and also repeated as dual meet state champion. Four Franklin Regional wrestlers won state championships this year.

Two of Franklin Regional's wrestlers were named to the all-USA first team - sophomore Spencer Lee and senior Michael Kemerer. Devin Brown was named second-team all-USA and Josh Shields third team.

PIAA-WPIAL matters

The WPIAL had its spring meeting with all of its athletic directors today. As part of the meeting, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi addressed the athletic directors about some subjects, some of them interesting.

First, one of the hot subjects in Pennsylvania athletics these days is the possibility of the PIAA going to six classifications for football. It is questionable whether it will happen. But in May, the PIAA board of directors will further discuss the idea and could possibly vote for the first time on one of the proposals. A new rule must pass three readings (votes) before it goes into effect for the 2016-17 school year.

Basically, there are four proposals: One is to go with the current four proposals, where the classes are split evenly, depending on school enrollments. In other words, the top 25 percent of schools, in terms of enrollment, are Class AAAA, the next 25 percent AAA and so on. 

A second proposal is for six classes, split evenly in terms of enrollment. In other words, the top 16.6 percent of teams in terms of enrollment would be 6A, the next 16.6 percent 5A, and so on.

Two other proposals are interesting and both would be for six classes. They are called the Super 700 and Super 800 proposals. Under the Super 700 proposal, those schools that have 700 or more boys in the top three grades would be placed in 6A. The rest of the schools in the state would be divided up evenly in the remaining five classes, based on enrollment.

In the Super 800 proposal, those schools with more than 800 boys in the top three grades would be in 6A. The remaining schools in the state would be divided up evenly in the remaining five classes, based on enrollment. How would the Super 700 and Super 800 proposals affect the WPIAL? Well, if you go by the most recent enrollment figures made available to the PIAA, only three schools would play 6A football in either proposal - Seneca Valley, North Allegheny and Butler. They all have more than 900 boys in the top three grades. No other WPIAL school has more than 700 boys in the top three grades.

One other thing the PIAA will consider in May is how charter school, cyber charter and home school students are counted. Currently, schools must count all of these students in their enrollment figures. The PIAA will consider a proposal where schools will have to only count 10 percent of charter, cyber charter and home school students.

The 6A idea will certainly be debated at the PIAA level. The WPIAL is against it, and one of the main reasons is because the league probably will not be able to play all of its football title games at Heinz Field like it does with four classes. But the other main reason is because the WPIAL believes if the PIAA wants to change the number of classifications, it should do so in all sports. It's a good point. If the PIAA goes to six classes in football, why not in basketball and baseball? Why not change volleyball to more classifications? 

Who knows what will happen with the 6A idea. But what is a little baffling is that while the 6A subject is debated, the PIAA still ignores what is really a hot-button topic for many schools these days - and that is public vs. non-public schools and also the proliferation of student-athlete transfers in the Philadelphia area. The more success that private, parochial and charter schools have in sports - especially basketball - the more the public vs. non-public becomes an issue.

And the loads of transfers in the Philadelphia area has many teams crying foul. Yet, the transfers continue to occur and Philadelphia athletic committees don't seem bothered by them.

Heat acclimatization rule

The PIAA changed its heat acclimatization rule this year for football. The official start of football practice in full pads with contact is Aug. 17. But all teams must go through five heat acclimatization practices before they can start contact practices in full pads.

However, there is an exception to the rule and a few athletic directors questioned Lombardi about it today. The exception does create a little confusion. Although the PIAA says teams must go through five days of heat acclimatization practices, there can be exceptions made where a player or players have to go through only three consecutive days of heat acclimatization practices.

Confused? Join the club.

WPIAL scholar athletes

The WPIAL today announced its 20 scholar-athlete winners. Each will receive a $1,000 check for college. Every school in the WPIAL can nominate a boy and a girl. A committee then picks the winners.

The girls winners are: Mohawk's Maria Fleck, Hempfield's Madeline Holmberg, Montour's Victoria Kocsuta, Ringgold's Kirsten McMichael, Yough's Theresa Merlino, Shaler's Brianna Schwartz, Penn-Trafford's Isabel Siergiej, Blackhawk's Courtney Vannoy, Freeport's Grace Ward and Quaker Valley's Caroline Westwood.

Boys winners were Jeannette's Zachary Allen, Ringgold's Jacob Gerard, West Allegheny's Sean Orsini, Seneca Valley's Tanner Quiggle, Quaker Valley's John Regueiro, Franklin Regional's Jacob Roberge, Freeport's Andrew Romanchak, Chartiers Valley's Joshua Rosato, Indiana's Cole Rosenberger and Upper St. Clair's Brooks Wilding.

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He pitched six innings at Blackhawk --- and now he's a major-league pitcher

Written by Mike White on .

Maybe more than any other sport, baseball is hard to predict how a high school kid will do in the future. Even high school seniors who are drafted in the first few rounds don't always make it big. On the other hand, there are plenty of kids who weren't maybe great prospects in high school, but have big success later on in their careers.

Adam Liberatore is a great example.

Liberatore played at Quigley Catholic High School through his junior year. He transferred to Blackhawk as a senior and played outfield and pitcher. He pitched all of 6 1/3 innings as a high school senior.

Now, Liberatore is pitching in the major leagues. And so far, things have just been perfect.

Liberatore got called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers a few days ago and pitched the ninth inning for the Dodgers Friday in a 7-3 victory against the Colorado Rockies. A left-hander, Liberatore ended the game with a strikeout of former Pirate Michael McKenry.

Then Liberatore came back today against Colorado and pitched two more perfect innings with two strikeouts.

It took a while for Liberatore to get to Major League Baseball. He was a 21st round draft pick of Tampa Bay in 2010. He had been in the minor leagues since 2010 and was traded to the Dodgers in November.

So, the 27-year-old now is on the same team with Clayton Kershaw. But get this: Liberatore was a 2005 graduate of Blackhawk, and as a senior, he was 0-1 with a save. He had eight strikeouts in those 6 1/3 innings.  You go from pitching 6 1/3 innings as a high school senior to pitching in the major leagues. It's a wonderful story.

Liberatore played for Blackhawk's American Legion team the summer after his senior year. Bob Amalia coached both the Blackhawk high school and Legion teams, just as he does today. Liberatore eventually signed with Tennessee Tech, but what's funny is that it was questionable what was his best position. Liberatore was 6 feet 2, 195 pounds back then. In a 2005 Post-Gazette story, Amalia said he wouldn't be surprised to see Liberatore eventually be a pitcher, but Amalia said, "He didn't pitch a lot for me in high school. But he's been timed at 89 [mph] on the mound."

Liberatore even said back then he was most comfortable in the outfield.

"I think he's better in the outfield because of his defensive ability and the way he hits," Amalia said in 2005. "But you never know."

Liberatore is the second pitcher who played for Amalia and made it to the major leagues. Brian Omogrosso is the other. In 2012 and 2013, he pitched 29 innings for the Chicago White Sox. 

Another former Blackhawk pitcher, Clayton Hamilton came close to the majors, making to Class AAA. He also pitched professionally in Japan.

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Roundball Classic starts tonight ....... Blackhawk hires Lamenza as football coach

Written by Mike White on .

The Roundball Classic is bigger than ever and starts tonight.

The Roundball Classic has nothing to do with the old Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, except part of the name. But the Roundball is now the No. 1 event for Western Pa. basketball players - boys and girls. The entire event is held at Geneva College. The Roundball Classic banquet was last night and close to 500 people attended.

This year's Roundball is bigger than ever. Roundball director Allen Deep added two games this year and both will be played tonight. The main games are tomorrow. But there is an underclassmen showcase tonight at 6:30, followed by an East-West game at 8:30. Tomorrow, the girls games are at 2 and 4 and the boys games at 6 and 8.

All of the seniors on the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 teams will be in the games as well as the three Players of the Year -- Chartiers Valley's Matty McConnell for the boys, and co-players of the year for the girls: Vincentian's Brenna Wise and Blackhawk's Chassidy Omogrosso.

The rosters for the Roundball are listed below. But before we get to them, one piece of news on the football coaching front. Blackhawk has hired a new football coach - finally.

Legendary Joe Hamilton retired in January. But Blackhawk didn't name a new coach until Thursday night. Joe Lamenza takes over for Hamilton, who coached 49 seasons at four different schools. He is the second-winningest coach in WPIAL history.

Lamenza has been Mohawk's coach the past four seasons, where he had a 7-29 record. He coached West Mifflin for one season in 2006, but was not rehired after a 3-6 record. He also has been an assistant at Robert Morris and Ellwood City, Riverside and Beaver.

It is never easy to follow a legend. It won't be easy for Lamenza. But he has plenty of experience.

One of the other known finalists for the job was Kim Niedbala, a former Blackhawk player in the early 1990s. Niedbala has been an assistant for a number of years at Edinboro University and Clarion.

Now onto the Roundball Classic rosters.

SCHEDULE
At Geneva College
Tonight — Undergraduate game, 6:30 p.m.; East-West boys, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday — Class A/City League/District 6 & 10 vs. Class AA girls, 2 p.m.; Class AAA vs. Class AAAA girls, 4 p.m.; Class A/Prep schools vs. Class AA boys, 6 p.m.; Class AAA vs. Class AAAA boys, 8 p.m.
 
BOYS ROSTERS
East — Billy Urso, Fox Chapel; Adam Witucki, Highlands; Marcus McGinniss, Upper St. Clair; Tyler Eadie, Laurel Highlands; Kindhal Taylor, North Hills; Chris McConnell, Indiana; Nick Tantuo, Kennedy Catholic; Kaison Branch, Highlands; Dequay Isbell, Washington; Noah Kunst, Kittanning; Alex Schoppen, Central Catholic; Justice Lewandowski, Butler; Matt Zannella, Knoch.
West — Jake Whitmer, Slippery Rock; Hunter Szilagy, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart; Danny Torok, Grove City; Santino Platt, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart; Chase Tomasetti, Lincoln Park; Logan Sheridan, Riverside; Nate Bell, Hopewell; Nick Barney, Beaver; Dylan Groff, Shady Side Academy; Matt Benson, Shenango; Zeph Rombold, New Brighton; James Micco, Shenango.
Class A/Prep Schools — Ryan Wolf, Vincentian; Mike Tappe, Aquinas Academy; Timon Gribbin, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic; Jamel Brown, Farrell; Dante Lombardi, Kiski School; Julian Batts, Jeannette; Carter Ehms, Eden Christian; Tray Matthews, California; Dane Jackson, Cornell; Kareem South, Kiski School; Rece Henneman, Jefferson-Morgan; Vince LeGrande, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic; Alex Otzyv, Kiski School.
Class AA — Stephon McGinnis, Aliquippa; Christian DelGreco, Seton-LaSalle; Isaac Williams, West Middlesex; Darrien Fields, Aliquippa; Alec Ferrari, Chartiers-Houston; Ryan Smith, Shenango; Zach Gould, Riverside; Antonio Kellem, Lincoln Park; Romano Sebastiani, Greensburg Central Catholic; Darrell Baron, Northgate; Trey Staunch, West Middlesex; Ryan Norkus, Seton-LaSalle; Chris Conlan, Quaker Valley; Troy Elphinstone, Brentwood.
Class AAA — Javon Turner, Beaver Falls; Joey Lafko, Hampton; Jack Relihan, South Fayette; David Huber, Hampton; John George, Central Valley; Robert Natale, New Castle; Blake Shields, Indiana; Justin Gorny, South Park; Daylon Carter, Ambridge; Riley Stapleton, Indiana; Joe Campbell, Uniontown; Andrew Koester, West Allegheny; Dom Keyes, Steel Valley; Dan Wanker, South Park; George Prota, Elizabeth Forward.
Class AAAA — Joe Mascaro, Bethel Park; Curtis Perz, Norwin; Matty McConnell, Chartiers Valley; Will Sandherr, North Allegheny; Jonny David, Mt. Lebanon; Kason Harrell, Hempfield; Cole Constantino, North Allegheny; Mike Simmons, Kiski Area; Matt Cullen, Latrobe; Khalil Perdue, McKeesport; DeAndre Schifino, Penn Hills; Logan Swan, Hempfield; Daylon Harris, Gateway; Zach Snyder, Seneca Valley; Patrick Ehland, Mt. Lebanon; Tony Pilato, Hempfield.
GIRLS ROSTERS
Class A/City League/District 6 & 10 — Chardonnay Littlejohn, Carrick; Katie Sieg, Serra Catholic; Kaitlyn Smith, Quigley Catholic; Ciara Clark, Aliquippa; Brandi Beader, Hickory; Liz Duer, Quigley Catholic; Tatum Kress, Kennedy Catholic; Chelsey Koren, Blairsville; Tina Bellhy, Fort Cherry; Nicole LaCava, Hickory; Heidi Langhorst, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart; Brenna Wise, Vincentian; Lyndsey Huhn, California.
 
(Pictured are Vincentian's Brenna Wise and Blackhawk's Chassidy Omogrosso, Post-Gazette Players of the Year who are in the Roundball). 
 
Class AA — Cassidy Guiser, Frazier; Carolyn Appleby, Greensburg Central Catholic; Sydney Bordonaro, Burrell; Caroline Cree, Carmichaels; Samantha Carr, Mohawk; Anna Bartman, Beth-Center; Ellen Shaffer, Laurel; Cassidy Walsh, Seton-LaSalle; Madison McHale, Neshannock; Jordan Melko, Carlynton; Nicolete Newman, Seton-LaSalle; Nikki Adisey, Greensburg Central Catholic; Cheyenne Seik, South Side Beaver; Tayler Grybowski, Neshannock; Conor Richardson, Carlynton; Leah Bisignani, Greensburg Central Catholic.
Class AAA — Chassidy Omogrosso, Blackhawk; Lesi Posset, Beaver; Claire Oberdorf, Greensburg Salem; Sara Getsy, Mars; Abigail Sporio, Elizabeth Forward; Bridget Shaffer, Blackhawk; Alexa Golden, Chartiers Valley; Alexa Szelong, Mount Pleasant; Ali Goetz, Mars; Melissa Rickens, Chartiers Valley; Sammie Weiss, McGuffey; Kelly Haslett, Ambridge; Courtney Vannoy, Blackhawk; Kaitlyn Slagus, Belle Vernon; Marlena Schmidt, Ringgold.
Class AAAA — Madison Serio, Upper St. Clair; Liz Kline, Shaler; Casey Aunkst, Penn-Trafford; Diandra Conwell, Upper St. Clair; Delaney Arbore, Norwin; Delaney Arbore, Norwin; Devvin LaBarge, North Allegheny; Rachel Mazzie, Upper St. Clair; Leah Knizner, Hempfield; Katy Abreu, Penn-Traford; Kaitlyn Chess, Bethel Park; Danielle Parker, Canon-McMillan; Maria Palarino, Penn-Trafford; Andi Lydon, Shaler; Meg Morningstar, North Allegheny; Courtney Zezza, Plum.

 

 

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