When North Allegheny loses more than one or two games in the regular season in girls basketball, it might seem like the sky is falling down.

After all, the Tigers boast a pristine record of 191-23 in eight years under coach Spencer Stefko, losing a grand total of 11 regular-season games across the previous seven seasons combined. So when they started off only 4-3 in their first seven games this season, some might have wondered if the WPIAL’s preeminent basketball dynasty in Class 6A was starting to fall apart.

Turns out, those teams North Allegheny lost to just so happened to be really good — and so are the Tigers.

Ever since that 4-3 start, North Allegheny has bounced back to win 10 of its past 11 games, with the lone blemish coming against St. Frances (Md.) at the MLK Hoops for Harmony tournament Jan. 15 at Chambersburg High School. During that span, the Tigers have picked up wins against teams from outside the WPIAL like Imhotep Charter, McDowell and Cumberland Valley while also reasserting themselves atop the Class 6A Section 1 standings next to Norwin.

“We’re learning. And every year is a different mix,” Stefko said. “We graduated a couple kids who played a bunch of minutes for us. We as a group just needed some time to congeal. I can’t stress enough that we realized that we’re not done doing it. Where we are isn’t good enough, but we hope we can be there in two weeks.”

After a lopsided 53-32 loss at the section-rival Knights on Jan. 3, it seemed as though a changing of the guard might finally be in order in the Class 6A hierarchy. Norwin has long battled with North Allegheny for Section 1 supremacy, with the Tigers typically coming out on top in recent years. This year seemed like it might be different, though — until the teams met again on Jan. 26, that is.

In the highly anticipated rematch, North Allegheny jumped out to a comfortable lead early on before holding off a late rally by Norwin in a 52-45 win. That put the Tigers in position to win at least a share of yet another section title, which would mark eight in a row in Stefko’s first eight seasons as North Allegheny’s coach. He also has won four WPIAL titles with the Tigers along with a PIAA Class 6A championship in 2021.

“We need to make sure we keep that [Norwin win] in perspective. That was one moment in time. Coming into the game, we kind of felt like they were better than us, and we still kind of feel that way,” Stefko said. “They have the resume. They have really good players and really good coaches. If we earn the right to play them again, we’re going to have to be better if we see them again.”

For as much as Stefko has accomplished in his short time with North Allegheny — not to mention his prior achievements at Seton LaSalle and Chartiers Valley — he doesn’t like talking about himself much, always choosing to defer the credit to his players instead. This year is no different, with star senior Jasmine Timmerson in particular drawing rave reviews from Stefko for her ability to lead the team both on and off the court.

“A lot of stars, a lot of kids who get accolades or who have the ability to do some things that other kids won’t, they forget about the dirty stuff. But Jasmine has taken more charges in her career than anybody I’ve coached,” Stefko said. “She’s always guarding the other team’s best player. She’s always rebounding. She’s always on the floor getting after loose balls. When you do that, the other kids follow. It’s just part of what makes her so special.”

A four-year starter and Pitt recruit, Timmerson is a crafty 5-7 point guard with elite shot-making ability and an undeniable knack for making her teammates better. She leads the Tigers with 16.3 points per game and recently surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career, but Stefko said it’s everything she does beyond the stat sheet that helps set Timmerson apart from so many of her peers.

“I’m not going to say it’s in a class by herself, but whatever class she’s in, it doesn’t take long to call roll,” Stefko said.

For Timmerson, the feeling is mutual.

“I love him, honestly. I wouldn’t say it to his face, but he’s my favorite [coach],” Timmerson said. “He makes me excited to come to practice every day and he always brings the energy. I love to play for him.”

Stefko also heaped similar praise upon junior guards Kellie McConnell and Lydia Betz, who generally take on the bulk of the scoring behind Timmerson while also doing all of the little things.

“Jasmine is going to be a full-time point guard in college and handle the ball a lot. Here, she doesn’t feel the need to do that, because we have another kid [McConnell] who does that at a really high level. We think that makes Jasmine a little more dynamic,” Stefko said. “[McConnell] is so similar [to Timmerson] in that she wants to do all the dirty work. You’re not going to see a kid who plays harder. She’s just constantly an annoyance on the ball, she’s constantly making the right pass.

“She’s skilled with the ball, but she’s coming down and crashing the boards as one of the smallest kids on the floor. She’s another one who is just special.”

Senior guard Cam Phillips is also a four-year starter who, like Timmerson, has a pair of WPIAL championships and a state title to her credit. She sometimes flies under the radar next to the team’s three leading scorers, but her veteran presence and big-game experience could prove invaluable come playoff time.

“We hope it does a bunch, but sometimes that stuff is overrated. Sometimes it’s just as good to be the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid who doesn’t realize how big the moment is,” Stefko said. “I’ll put it this way — it certainly doesn’t hurt.”

Facing such lofty expectations year after year, it could take a toll on some coaches knowing anything less than a WPIAL or state title might be viewed as a disappointment. But Stefko chooses to look at it from a different perspective, knowing firsthand just how hard it is to get to that championship game, let alone win it.

With six WPIAL titles and a pair of state championship rings already to his name, Stefko doesn’t get too caught up in the pressure of chasing titles. Instead, he just wants to keep winning to keep the team playing together as long as possible, making sure to cherish the precious few moments they have left together — and Timmerson is on the same page.

“I just want to keep playing until I can’t play anymore and spend more time with my teammates and coach Stefko,” Timmerson said. “That’s the goal.”

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

Steve Rotstein

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