As a sixth grader, Natalie Wetzel sat in the stands at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center watching Makenna Marisa lead Peters Township to its first WPIAL girls basketball championship.
Years later, it’s Wetzel, a sophomore, now starring on Peters Township’s varsity team. And if a recent scholarship offer is any indication, Wetzel could have a Power Five future just like Marisa.
Wetzel is off to a tremendous start to her sophomore season and second as a starter. A 6-foot-2 guard/forward, Wetzel is one of the top scorers and rebounders in Class 6A. Colleges have taken notice, with Kent State, Davidson, George Mason, Tulsa and Buffalo all extending offers.
Wetzel picked up her biggest offer to date last weekend. On Friday, Pitt associate head coach Terri Mitchell was in the crowd to watch Wetzel and Peters Township host Chartiers Valley. The Colts clipped Peters Township by two points, but Wetzel scored a game-high 23 points during a performance that must have impressed Mitchell. She offered Wetzel a scholarship the very next day. Pitt has landed WPIAL players in consecutive recruiting classes. Former Chartiers Valley star Aislin Malcolm is a freshman at Pitt, while North Allegheny senior Jasmine Timmerson is a Pitt commit.
“It meant a lot,” Wetzel said. “I’m not saying I’m not proud of my other offers, but this just means a lot for it to be a Power Five school offer, especially Pitt. It’s a big step.”
Another big step was taken Wednesday when Wetzel received her first Pac-12 offer from Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a former Peters Township standout on their roster. Journey Thompson is a freshman there and has started a few games for the Sun Devils.
Wetzel has taken leap on the court, as well. She ranks second in the WPIAL’s largest class with 20.2 points per game. (Junior teammate Gemma Walker is first at 20.6 ppg.) Wetzel is also averaging nine rebounds for the Indians, who are 9-6 overall and 3-3 in Section 2. In Tuesday’s win against Canon-McMillan, Wetzel produced a triple-double with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
“She’s taken major strides the last few weeks,” Peters Township coach Steve Limberiou said. “She’s been more aggressive and better on the defensive side of the ball. Her shot selection has been good. She’s really evolving into a complete player.
“She does so many things well that it’s hard to say what she does best. She can score at all three levels, and not many girls in the country at that height can score at all three levels.”
Wetzel is now being wooed by Power Five schools just as Marisa was. Marisa, who scored more than 1,730 career points for the Indians, has gone on to an outstanding career at Penn State. Now a senior with the Nittany Lions, Marisa averages a team-high 17.7 points. She was selected first-team all-Big Ten a season ago.
“I really looked up to Makenna,” Wetzel said.
Marisa and Thompson play in two of college basketball’s top conferences, and Limberiou said Wetzel could rise to that level, as well.
“I think Natalie has the potential to be one of the best prospects in the state. She’s probably there already,” Limberiou said. “Her ceiling is really unlimited.”
Cephas, Speca to Penn State
Penn State recently picked up commitments from a big transfer and a highly touted high school player, and both hail from WPIAL schools.
First the Nittany Lions hit the portal and landed a commitment from Kent State wide receiver Dante Cephas, a Penn Hills graduate and one of the top transfer receivers available. Pitt, Georgia and Oklahoma were among the many schools trying to land Cephas. In four seasons at Kent State, Cephas made 145 catches for 2,139 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. His biggest season came in 2021 when he had 82 receptions for 1,240 yards and nine touchdowns. At Penn State, Cephas will hook up with former Penn Hills teammates Daequan Hardy and Tank Smith. They helped lead Penn Hills to a PIAA title in 2018.
Central Catholic junior linebacker Anthony Speca then verbally committed to Penn State on Tuesday. Speca, a four-star recruit and three-year starter, is considered one of the top players in the state in the 2023 class and is ranked the No. 186 player nationally by Rivals. Speca’s impressive list of offers also included Pitt, Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State.
First Division I offers
Several local players picked up their first Division I offers in the past week. North Catholic basketball standout Max Hurray received an offer from UMass Lowell. Hurray, a 6-1 junior guard, is averaging 23 points this season. Two football players received their first offers, as well. Mt. Lebanon junior linebacker Beckham Dee was offered by Toledo, while Central Catholic sophomore defensive back Xxavier Thomas received an offer from Akron. Thomas is the younger brother of Indianapolis Colts safety Rodney Thomas.
Leechburg’s Owen McDermott (Mount Aloysius); North Hills’ Dylan Barnes (Penn State Behrend); Rochester’s Parker Lyons (Westminster).
Armstrong’s Olivia Yancy (Saint Vincent); Burrell’s Abby Landowski (Penn State Behrend); Norwin’s Savannah Schenck (Grove City).
Apollo-Ridge’s Michael Fryer (Waynesburg); Canon-McMillan’s Noah Livesay (California); Elizabeth Forward’s Zach Boyd (IUP); Gateway’s Racari El (California); Highlands’ Daniel Long (Slippery Rock); North Allegheny’s Cam Melzer (Saint Francis); Pine-Richland’s Max Heckert (Slippery Rock); Plum’s Eryck Moore-Watkins (Slippery Rock); Rochester’s Jerome Mullins (Slippery Rock); Seneca Valley’s Joe Babusci (Wittenberg); Union’s Kaden Fisher (Slippery Rock); West Mifflin’s Tyjeir Williams (IUP).