High School Basketball Season Preview: Penn-Trafford Warriors

Nine rotational players return for the boys while the girls bring back four starters

Wed Nov 29, 2023 - 7:04PM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Tyler Freas and Olivia Pepple return to help guide Penn-Trafford this season. (Photo by www.westernpasports.com)Tyler Freas and Olivia Pepple return to help guide Penn-Trafford this season. (Photo by www.westernpasports.com)

Last Updated: Wed Nov 29, 2023 - 9:51PM

Penn-Trafford Warriors Boys

Head Coach: Doug Kelly – 4th season

Conference: Class 5A Section 3

Last Season: 7-16 overall, lost to Peters Township in the WPIAL Class 5A first round

Key Losses: Andrew Kessler, Ethan Kane

Key Returners: Tyler Freas, Jason Sabol, Ian Temple, Carmen Metcalfe, Keith Otto, Tyler Boss, Brayden Stone, Zach Feldman, Tyler Anthony

Promising Newcomers: Evan Gross, Jack Weishaar, Connor Evangeliste, Ekoulus Lett, Aidon Lett, Ben Lenart, Jake Briggs, Peyton Mastro, Nick Ponko, Ethan McDonald

The 2022-23 season was mostly a struggle for Penn-Trafford, but the Warriors used a late-season surge to secure a playoff spot. After dropping their first five contests in section play, the Warriors won four of their final five tilts in the section, earning a spot in the Class 5A postseason.

Just two notable components from that team graduated – Andrew Kessler and Ethan Kane – while nine rotational players return to the mix, so the Warriors could be well equipped to take strides this campaign.

“Last year was a tough year for all of us, but we did start to play our best basketball the last three weeks of the season. Hopefully, many of our guys will show that they have matured as players situationally and understand now what it takes to play winning basketball,” said PT head coach Doug Kelly.

Among the notable returners are seniors guard Tyler Freas, who averaged 15 points per game last year, guard Jason Sabol, who posted 9 points per contest, and guard/forward Ian Temple, who contributed 7 points per game. Freas has received Division III interest to continue his basketball career.

Other letterwinners back in the mix include seniors forward Carmen Metcalfe and guard/forward Keith Otto, junior guards Brayden Stone and Tyler Anthony, and sophomores guard Tyler Boss and forward Zach Feldman.

Meanwhile, several other players appear poised to carve out larger roles in 2023-24, including juniors Evan Gross, Jack Weishaar, Connor Evangeliste, Ekoulus Lett, Aidon Lett, sophomores Ben Lenart, Jake Briggs, and Peyton Mastro, and freshmen Nick Ponko and Ethan McDonald.

“Our guys worked really hard in the offseason. That never guarantees individual or team success, but hopefully it gives us a chance,” Kelly noted. “How we continue to grow defensively will play a huge part in how successful we will be.”

Reigning Class 5A Section 3 champion Gateway appears to be a top contender once again, while McKeesport Area and Kiski Area also were playoff qualifiers last campaign. Furthermore, Franklin Regional and Greater Latrobe each finished one game behind the Warriors. It was one of just two sections in the entire WPIAL in which every team won at least three games.

Prior to the section lid-lifter at Franklin Regional on Jan. 2, the Warriors will face several notable opponents in the nonsection slate, including Norwin, Woodland Hills, and Penn Hills. Penn-Trafford will also battle Peters Township, which eliminated the Warriors from the playoffs last season.

Penn-Trafford Warriors Girls

Head Coach: John Giannikas – 18th season

Conference: Class 5A Section 3

Last Season: 18-10 overall, lost to South Fayette in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals; lost to McKeesport Area in the PIAA Class 5A second round

Key Losses: Kylee Piconi, Lilly Palladino

Key Returners: Olivia Pepple, Lauren Marton, Torrie DeStefano, Kamryn Pieper

Promising Newcomers: Isabella Klobucar, Hannah Weishaar, Olivia Weishaar, Paige Temple, Arabelle Nichols, Elle Visco, Isabella Fontana

The 2022-23 campaign was a successful one for Penn-Trafford, as the Warriors won 18 games, including a winning streak of seven games. Furthermore, PT claimed victories in both the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.

However, the Warriors came up well short when they faced the top two teams in their section, as they went 0-4 against Oakland Catholic and McKeesport Area in the regular season, losing each contest by double digits. The Tigers continued their dominance against the Warriors in the state playoffs, as McKeesport overmatched PT 63-25.

From that squad, Penn-Trafford graduated two notable players – Lilly Palladino and Kylee Piconi. Palladino has continued her career on the hardwood at Penn State Behrend, while Piconi, who missed time last year with injury, is playing softball at Frostburg State.

“We have a nice mix of experience back - four starters and a deeper bench this year,” detailed John Giannikas, in his 18th season guiding the Penn-Trafford girls. “We believe we can continue to make a push for the playoffs again and challenge for one of the top spots in the section.”

Leading the way will be senior guard Olivia Pepple, who is committed to Gannon. Pepple, who has been a catalyst since her freshman season, averaged a team-leading 16.5 points last season. She appears poised to reach the 1,000-point milestone this season.

The other three returner starters are junior forward Lauren Marton, who contributed 10 points per contest, along with sophomore guard Torrie DeStefano and junior forward Kamryn Pieper, who averaged 8 and 7 points, respectively. All three players have already received college interest.

Also in the mix for rotation spots are senior forward Elle Visco, juniors Isabella Klobucar and Paige Temple, sophomores Hannah Weishaar, Olivia Weishaar, and Arabelle Nichols, and freshman Isabella Fontana.

In order to take a significant step forward, the Warriors will likely need to have better success against the frontrunners in Class 5A Section 3. The Eagles reached the WPIAL championship game and the state semifinals, while the Tigers reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals. Greater Latrobe also qualified for the playoffs last season, while Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson, and Connellsville Area missed the postseason.

“It's a tough section with great teams,” Giannikas noted.

Prior to opening section action at Connellsville Area on Dec. 14, the Warriors will battle a couple of Westmoreland County rivals in Norwin and Hempfield Area.