Football season isn’t over yet, but basketball season is just around the corner — and that means it’s time to get ready for all the action with our exclusive PUP season preview.

Here are some top girls storylines, teams and players to keep an eye on when the season tips off for WPIAL and City League teams Friday.

Big stories

Three-peat? Chartiers Valley had a great run for the past few years under Tim McConnell, but the title of the preeminent dynasty in WPIAL girls basketball right now belongs to Luann Grybowski’s Neshannock Lancers. Neshannock finished 29-2 last year while capturing WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A championships, one year after finishing 19-3 and winning another WPIAL title along with another trip to the state finals. The Lancers have won three WPIAL titles in four years and return several key players from last season, but their quest for a WPIAL championship three-peat will be a challenging one after moving up from Class 2A to Class 3A.

Unfinished business: The 2021-22 season was a memorable one for Blackhawk, which dominated the competition on its way to a WPIAL Class 4A championship while outscoring foes by nearly 30 points per game. The Cougars took an unbeaten record into a PIAA quarterfinal clash with the Villa Maria Academy juggernaut, and their season came to an end with a record of 26-1 after a 54-27 defeat. It was the second year in a row an undefeated WPIAL champion lost to Villa Maria in the PIAA quarterfinal round, after Beaver met the same fate the year before. Can Blackhawk find a way to get over the hump this season?

Chasing her mentor: Last year’s WPIAL Class 3A title for North Catholic delivered one for the other thumb for Trojanettes coach Molly Rottmann, who is now only the second coach to win 10 WPIAL championship rings. Her longtime mentor and former North Catholic coach Don Barth is the only one ahead of her on the all-time list with 11 titles. If Rottmann hopes to match Barth and win title No. 11 this year, her Trojanettes will have to do so in Class 4A after moving back up from Class 3A for the current two-year cycle — and that means they’ll have to go through Blackhawk.

Upper St. Clair’s Naomi Richardson grabs a rebound against Belle Vernon’s Tessa Rodriguez during a scrimmage Tuesday at Belle Vernon High School. Upper St. Clair is one of the top teams in Class 6A this season. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The favorites

Class 6A: Upper St. Clair. The Panthers came just short of winning their first WPIAL title in 14 years last season, falling to Mt. Lebanon in the teams’ rubber match in the WPIAL Class 6A finals after splitting the first two meetings with their rivals. But while the Blue Devils graduated a ton of talent last spring, Upper St. Clair returns four of five starters from last year’s 20-win team, including 6-1 senior forward Kate Robbins and 5-9 senior guard Mia Brown. Both players averaged 13 ppg in 2021-22.

Class 5A: South Fayette. The Lions surprised many fans at Petersen Events Center in March when they knocked off three-time defending champ Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL Class 5A title game. They won’t be catching anybody by surprise this year. The Lions are led by Villanova recruit Maddie Webber, a 5-11 senior guard who averaged 17 ppg last season. Webber isn’t the only star of the show in South Fayette, though. The Lions also feature 6-3 senior forward Ava Leroux, an Elon recruit who is one of the top post players in the area.

Class 4A: Blackhawk. The Cougars became the 21st team to win a WPIAL girls basketball championship with a perfect record last season, and their high-powered offense should be just as potent this year. All-section picks Alena Fusetti (13.1 ppg) and Quinn Borroni (10.4 ppg) both return to lead this year’s bunch, which should again rank as one of the deepest and most balanced lineups in the area. Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico has won four WPIAL titles and two state titles in 17 years with the Cougars.

Class 3A: Neshannock. Lancers coach Luann Grybowski has won an astonishing 714 games in her career, none bigger than a 62-56 win vs. Southern Columbia in last year’s PIAA Class 2A championship game. That was her first career state title, but Grybowski and her players may need to get fitted for another ring or two this year. Neshannock returns standout senior Mairan Haggerty (17.2 ppg), a Seton Hill recruit, along with several other key players from last year’s rotation. Things will get tougher after bumping up from Class 2A, but the Lancers are a clear favorite to claim their fourth WPIAL title in five years.

Class 2A: Freedom. It was a dream season for Freedom in 2021-22, although the Bulldogs came up just short of their ultimate goals in the WPIAL and PIAA championship games. Guided by an ultra-positive presence in coach John Kaercher, Freedom knocked off WPIAL champ North Catholic in a thrilling PIAA semifinal win before falling just short vs. Philly powerhouse Neumann-Goretti in the state final. The Bulldogs graduated all-section point guard Renae Mohrbacher, but they’ll still bring back plenty of talent this year, including multi-sport star Shaye Bailey (16 ppg).

Class 1A: Union. Maybe the toughest classification to come up with a preseason favorite, the Scotties get the edge over defending champion Bishop Canevin thanks to the return of all five starters, including 6-foot junior forward Kelly Cleaver (13 ppg). Union finished the 2021-22 regular season with a record of 19-1 and split a section title with Rochester before falling to Canevin in the WPIAL semifinals.

City League: Obama. One year after falling to Westinghouse in the 2020 City League championship, the Eagles resumed their perch at the top of the mountain with a 58-40 win vs. Allderdice in last year’s title game. Obama returns several key members from last year’s 15-win team, including senior guard Taylor Woodruff and junior guards Taylor Phillips and Giona Simmons.

Finest Five

Mairan Haggerty, Neshannock. Haggerty is the ultimate winner, already with a pair of WPIAL titles and a PIAA championship to her name in her first three seasons with the Lancers. The 6-1 senior guard will have a good chance to add to her collection this year, as Neshannock seeks to win a third consecutive WPIAL crown and back-to-back state titles. A Seton Hill recruit who averaged 17.2 ppg as a junior, Haggerty is a two-time first-team all-state selection and is closing in on 1,000 career points. She scored a game-high 23 points in the Lancers’ 62-56 win vs. Southern Columbia in last year’s PIAA Class 2A title game.

Kate Robbins, Upper St. Clair. Robbins is a dominating post presence for the Panthers, using her exceptional length and smooth fundamentals to routinely rack up easy buckets in the paint while serving as an elite rim protector. The Marist recruit earned all-section honors as a sophomore after averaging 15 ppg, then received another all-section nod after scoring 13 ppg as a junior. The only thing Robbins is missing now is a WPIAL title.

Alayna Rocco, North Catholic. One-half of the Trojanettes’ dynamic duo along with senior Dacia Lewandowski, Rocco is one of the top juniors in the area — and one of the smartest. The 5-11 guard has already committed to Harvard. Rocco averaged a team-high 17 ppg as a sophomore while leading North Catholic to a WPIAL Class 3A title, and she’ll need to be even better this upcoming season in order to help the Trojanettes knock off Blackhawk in Class 4A.

Jasmine Timmerson, North Allegheny. A Pitt recruit, Timmerson has maintained her status as one of the top players in Class 6A since her freshman year with the Tigers. She helped North Allegheny win back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2020 and 2021 along with a 2021 state title as a sophomore, but the Tigers lost a close one to Upper St. Clair in last year’s WPIAL semifinals and finished with a record of 21-4. A two-time all-section selection, the 5-7 senior averaged 13.5 points per game last year.

Maddie Webber, South Fayette. Possibly the preseason favorite to win Player of the Year, Webber did it all for the Lions last season en route to winning a WPIAL Class 5A title. A two-time all-section pick, Webber scored a team-high 17 points in South Fayette’s stunning 57-48 WPIAL championship upset vs. Chartiers Valley, right on par with her season average of 17 ppg. A 5-11 senior, Webber is capable of attacking defenses both inside and outside and scoring from anywhere on the court, and the Villanova recruit is also an exceptional defender.

Must-see games

South Fayette at Upper St. Clair, Dec. 2. Fans won’t have to wait long to witness arguably the most anticipated non-section matchup of the regular season, as preseason Class 6A favorite Upper St. Clair hosts preseason Class 5A favorite and defending WPIAL champion South Fayette on opening night. The battle in the paint between 6-1 Panthers forward Kate Robbins and 6-3 Lions forward Ava Leroux should be worth the price of admission alone.

Avonworth at Bishop Canevin, Dec. 20. The Antelopes and Crusaders are a couple of teams from smaller classifications that should be making a lot of noise this season. Many believe Canevin has a good chance at repeating as WPIAL Class 1A champion, with 5-9 senior guard Ashley Lippold (16 ppg) leading the way. And with a pair of all-section picks returning in Greta O’Brien (13.4 ppg) and Rebecca Goetz (12.6 ppg), Avonworth could be the leading contender to end Neshannock’s bid for a championship three-peat in Class 3A.

Obama Academy at Winchester Thurston, Jan. 24. It’s only a two-mile trip from Obama to Winchester Thurston, where the defending City League champion Eagles will certainly be tested against one of the top teams in Class 2A in this late-season showdown. The Bears feature the top returning scorer in the WPIAL in senior guard Nadia Moore, a three-time all-section pick who averaged 25.1 ppg as a junior.

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at