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D9 Hoops Preview: New Faces in Coaching Ranks Top Story in D9 Hoops for 2022-23

Alivia Huffman is back to try to lead Redbank Valley to another D9 title, this time in Class 2A. Photo by Mike Maslar

New (with some of them being old) faces on the bench are the headliner news of the 2022-23 basketball season in District 9.

Preseason All-D9 Boys TeamPreseason All-D9 Girls Team

A whopping 17 new head coaches, including 32% (11) of the boys’ team, line the benches in the district this season, including an unusual co-head coaching tandem at A-C Valley for the boys’ squad.

Brad Dittman, also the Union/A-C Valley football coach, and Chris McNany, who has coached football with Dittman, will be the co-head men for the Falcons.

           

The return of three highly successful coaches is also big news with Josh Meeker taking over the Union girls’ job, Randy Reitz the Punxsutawney boys’ position, and Mike Brown the North Clarion boys’ spot.

Meeker was a highly successful coach for the Golden Damsels in the 2000s and won four straight District 9 Coach of the Year awards while also taking Union to the PIAA semifinals in Class 1A in 2006.

Reitz had successful stints as both the boys’ coach at Brookville and the girls’ coach at Punxsutawney, and he will be joined on the bench by Punxsutawney legend Bill Vassallo, who was the long-time head boys coach until retiring a few years ago and is now a volunteer assistant.

Brown was one of the more successful head boys coaches in Redbank Valley history before going on to coach baseball at Clarion University (he was also the baseball coach at Redbank). He split the last few seasons as an assistant coach at North Clarion and Keystone.

Otto-Eldred, considered one of the favorites in D9 2A this year, also has a new coach with former assistant Derek Francis taking over the reins.

Another traditional Class 2A power, Ridgway, also said goodbye to long-time head coach Tony Allegretto with Allegretto’s former assistant, Eric Herzing, taking over the reins for the defending D9 2A champs.

Two schools have new boys and girls coaches this season with Josh Tkacik taking over the Curwensville boys and Dawna Wheeler the Curwensville girls, and Corey McWilliams heading up the Forest Area boys team with Luke Alex taking over the girls program.

Speaking of Forest Area girls, the Fires are back after not having a team a year ago.

Additional new coaches on the boys’ side include Cory Darr at Kane, Dustin Small at Oswayo Valley, Tim Borsky at Smethport, and Devon Geib (pending clearances) at Venango Catholic. VC wasn’t going to have a team, but one was put together late, although it won’t play a conference schedule this year.

Sam Heeter takes over at Clarion, and he will have a lot of experience on the bench with him as Dave Constantino, a coach back in the 90s for the Bobcats, joins him.

Marty Bechelli is the new girls’ coach at Bradford, and Adam Pfingstler, who comes over from helping over at rival Ridgway, is the new girls’ coach at Johnsonburg.

ST. MARYS JOINS AML, VENANGO CATHOLIC OUT OF KSAC FOR NOW

               

In some conference reshuffling, St. Marys joins the AML South taking the place of Curwensville, who departed for the ICC before last season.

Both Dutch teams will do the same thing city rival Elk County Catholic does and play in both the AML and D9 League.

Meanwhile, as mentioned above, Venango Catholic’s late cobbling together of a boys’ squad meant the Vikings were too late to play a KSAC schedule this year.

The girls’ team at VC, had already dropped out of the conference for the 2022-23 season with the school co-oping with Cranberry.

NOTABLE CLASSIFICATION CHANGES

There are a couple of notable classification changes this season, as the 2022-23 year starts a new two-year classification cycle in the PIAA.

The two biggest changes could possibly be the Redbank Valley girls, the 2021-22 D9 3A champions, moving down to Class 2A, and the Otto-Eldred boys, who finished third in Class 1A last year moving up to Class 2A.

Other notable changes have Keystone dropping from Class 2A to Class 1A in boys’ basketball, while Punxsutawney moves back up to 4A from 3A on the girls’ side.

   

TOP SCORER ON THE MOVE

D9’s leading girls’ scorer a year ago, Lily Homan, transferred from Venango Catholic to North Clarion. As a junior, she had to go through the process of being approved for the regular season by the District 9 committee after VC wouldn’t sign off on the transfer, and she was granted regular-season eligibility in October.

Whether or not Homan, who averaged 20.3 ppg, will be eligible for the postseason is still up in the air with another hearing needing to take place if North Clarion asks for that eligibility.

ELEVEN GIRLS ALL-DISTRICT 9 PLAYERS RETURNING

Homan, who was a first-team All-District 9 selection last year and a preseason All-D9 selection this season, is one of 11 All-D9 selections from a year ago returning, including one of four first-team selections.

Katie Sheeler, a senior at Otto-Eldred, was the District 9 Player of the Year last season after averaging 18.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 3.0 assists per game.

Another senior, Chloe Presloid of Punxsutawney scored 11.2 points per game while adding 6.3 rebounds, 3.1 steals, and 2.4 assists per contest, while Alivia Huffman, a senior at Redbank Valley, averaged 13.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 2.8 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game.

Huffman, who helped Redbank Valley to the D9 3A title a year aog, is joined by sophomore Mylee Harmon, who was a second-team All-D9 selection last year after averaging 12.6 points, 3.2 assists, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. Harmon was also the District 9 Rookie of the Year.

Elk County Catholic, the defending D9 1A champion, has three All-D9 players back with all three being juniors. Syd Alexander (10.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.2 apg) and Tori Newton (8.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.3 spg) were both second-team selections with Lucy Klawuhn (9.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.8 spg, 62 3-pointers) was a third-team choice.

Also returning from the second team is three-sport Keystone star senior Natalie Bowser, who averaged 15. Points and 12.1 rebounds per contest.

A pair of third-team players who are juniors this year are also back with DuBois Central Catholic’s Kayley Risser and Ridgway’s Jenna Kasmierski.

Risser averaged 12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals, and 2.2 apg, while Kasmierski averaged 10.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 blocks per contest.

THREE BOYS All-D9 PLAYERS BACK

While the girls’ side is heavy with returning all-district players, the boys’ side has only three All-D9 recipients from 2022 returning.

Clearfield senior Cole Miller is the lone first-team choice back. Miller hit 102 3-pointers last year while leading D9 in scoring at 21.8 points per game. He also added six rebounds, two assists, and 1 steal per contest.

North Clarion senior Aiden Hartle and Otto-Eldred sophomore Landon Francis were both third-team selections.

Hartle averaged 15.5 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals per game while shooting 54% from the field, while Francis, who was the D9 Rookie of the Year, averaged 13.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per contest while hitting 86 of 100 free throws.

PIAA PLAYOFF SPOTS

There are plenty of PIAA playoff spots to go around in 2022-23.

In girls’ play, five 1A District 9 teams and two 2A squads get automatic berths. While in Classes 3A, 4A, and 5A teams will have to play in subregions to get to the postseason.

On the boys’ side, five 1A squads and three 2A squads will get automatic berths. The Class 3A and 5A teams will have to go through subregions, and in Class 4A it isn’t clear what happens as the bracket available is not clear on the subject.

The matchups in 1A girls have District 9’s fifth-place finisher playing the WPIAL champion, the fourth-place ender taking on the District 5 champion, the third-place finisher playing the District 10 champion, the runner-up facing the District 5 runner-up, and the champion taking on the WPIAL fifth-place finisher.

In Class 2A girls, the D9 champion will face the sixth-place finisher out of the WPIAL, while the D9 runner-up takes on the District 10 third-place finisher.

Class 3A girls combine with Districts 5 and 8 to form a subregion with two teams from the subregion advancing, Class 4A girls combine with District 8 to form a subregion, and the lone D9 5A school, DuBois, plays in a subregion with Districts 8 and 10.

If a D9 team is the top team in Class 3A in the subregion, it will face the sixth-place finisher out of the WPIAL, and if a D9 team is the second-place team in the subregion it would face the third-place team ou of the WPIAL.

In Class 4A, if a D9 team is the subregion winner it would take on the fifth-place team out of the WPIAL, while if DuBois advances out of its subregion it would face the fifth-place team out of the WPIAL.

In Class 1A boys, the D9 fifth-place finisher will take on the WPIAL champion, the fourth-place finisher will play the D6 champion, the third-place ender will take on the District 6 runner-up, the D9 runner-up will play the third-place team out of District 5, and the D9 champion will face the WPIAL fifth-place finisher.

Class 2A in boys sees the D9 third-place finisher facing the WPIAL champion, the runner-up taking on the third-place team out of the WPIAL, and the champion squaring off against WPIAL fourth-place finisher.

In Class 3A, District 9 is in a subregion with Districts 5 and 8 with two teams advancing out of the subregion, while the lone Class 5A team, DuBois, is in a subregion with Districts 8 and 10.

If a D9 team comes out of the 3A subregional as the top team it will play the fifth-place finisher out of the WPIAL, and if it is the second-best team it would take on the WPIAL third-place finisher. If DuBois advances to the PIAA tournament it would take on the fifth-place finisher out of the WPIAL.

In Class 4A, District 9 has been playing in a subregion with District 8, but that isn’t clear on the brackets which shows just the D8 winner getting a spot. But the catch is there is no 4A team in District 8, so the best guess is that spot actually belongs to District 9. If so, the winner takes on the third-place team out of the WPIAL if that is the case.

SO, WHO ARE THE FAVORITES

So, which teams should be considered favorites this season?

Girls Class 1A

The defending champs, ECC, have to be considered the favorites again, although last year’s runner-up, Otto-Eldred, did advance to the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinals and should push ECC as well.

North Clarion, especially if Homan is eligible for the postseason, could make a strong push toward the title as well as could DCC and potentially Ridgway.

Those five teams are most likely the favorites to take the five PIAA spots.

Girls Class 2A

Redbank Valley immediately becomes the favorite in Class 2A.

Defending champion Brockway lost its two all-D9 first-team players, and runner-up Clarion-Limestone suffered a setback during volleyball season when Kendall Dunn tore her ACL.

Moniteau should give the Lady Bulldogs their stiffest competition with junior guard Catherine Kelly (13.1 ppg) leading the way. While Coudersport has to replace Liz Frame, the Lady Falcons always seem to be in the mix as well, and Keystone has the athletes to make things difficult for teams.

Girls Class 3A

There are only three Class 3A teams – Brookville, Kane, and Karns City. The Lady Gremlins have a strong underclass group and should be the best of the three.

Bedford and Chestnut Ridge are the lone teams in 3A in District 5, while Perry and Westinghouse come out of District 8.

Bedford was 22-6 last year and advanced to the PIAA second round in Class 4A before losing to Villa Maria. The Bison, though, graduated their top five scorers.

Chestnut Ridge finished 14-12 last season and also reached the second round of the PIAA playoffs in 3A before losing to River Valley. The Lions return top scorer Bella Bosch (19.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg).

Westinghouse went 10-7 a year ago losing to Chestnut Ridge in a subregion game, while Perry was 2-9.

Girls Class 4A

D9 Class 4A has four teams – Bradford, Clearfield, Punxsutawney, and St. Marys.

The Lady Chucks were the D9 3A runners-up last year breaking a string of eight straight titles (7 in 4A and 1 in 3A) but should be right back in the mix again this season.

St. Marys is coming off an 18-win season that saw it win the D9 4A title a year ago. The Lady Dutch were a well-balanced offensive team abd return their top three scorers, including leading scorer Jayssa Snelick (8.5 ppg).

Clearfield finished second a year ago and does return second-leading scorer Cayleigh Walker (11.1 ppg).

District 8 only has one 4A score, Carrick, which finished 1-11 last year.

Girls Class 5A

The problem for DuBois, which went 10-13 a year ago, is that any chance of getting to the PIAA playoffs has to go through Cathedral Prep, which was known as Villa Maria last year when it advanced to the PIAA Class 4A semifinals after reaching the title game in 2021.

Boys Class 1A

Defending champion Elk County Catholic only returns only one of its top four scorers – third-leading scorer Jordan Wasko (10.3 ppg) from a year ago. Wasko is a preseason All-D9 selection, and an Aaron Straub-coached team should never be counted out.

Expect challenges to come from Keystone, although the Panthers are replacing a lot, as well as Clarion, DCC, Johnsonburg, Cameron County, and A-C Valley.

The cool thing about Class 1A is those five PIAA playoff berths could go to any of those above teams or even a surprise team.

Boys Class 2A

Defending champion Ridgway is going to most likely take a step back after losing its top two players in Dan Park and Domenic Allegretto although expect the ground-it-out style developed under former head coach Tony Allegretto to continue.

Otto-Eldred will look to build upon its success in Class 1A a year ago and does return Francis although leading scorer Gavin Jimerson has graduated.

C-L should be strong again led by point guard Jordan Hesdon (10.1 ppg), while Karns City is always good. The Gremlins did suffer a setback during football season when leading scorer Luke Cramer (12.5 ppg) was lost for the year with a knee injury. But preseason All-D9 performer Micha Rupp along with Tate Beighley are both back and could help make the Gremlins one of the favorites.

Redbank Valley has to replace a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Bryson Bain and Chris Marshall as well as all-world athlete Marquese Gardlock, but Mason and Owen Clouse give the Bulldogs some ammo, especially from long range.

Port Allegany, once it gets its basketball legs going after football season ends, could be an intriguing team to watch as well.

If we were picking the three PIAA teams right now we would go with Karns City, Otto-Eldred, and then the third spot is up for grabs.

Boys Class 3A

This classification is down to just two teams in D9 this year – Brookville and Moniteau – and the Raiders have been one of the top programs in District 9 regardless of classification for a few years now. They are the defending D9 League champs and went to the PIAA Class 3A title game two years ago. Brookville, though, graduated eight seniors from a year ago so some unknowns will have to step up to help continue the trend. It does help that the Raiders return preseason All-D9 choice, Clayton Cook.

Bedford and Chestnut Ridge will be the District 5 part of the subregion with Perry and Westinghouse coming out of District 8.

Chestnut Ridge knocked off Brookville in a subregion game last year, 60-37, and advanced to the second round of the PIAA tournament in 3A and return two of its top three scorers.

Bedford finished 13-10 last year with a young team that didn’t feature a single senior.

Westinghouse was just 3-12 a year ago, while Perry went 6-13 losing to Chestnut Ridge in a subregional contest.

Boys Class 4A

Clearfield has been the cream of the crop in Class 4A for nearly a decade with Nate Glunt’s teams winning eight straight D9 crowns.

None of the other teams – Punxsutawney, Bradford, nor St. Marys – had a winning record last year.

Boys Class 5A

DuBois beat Brashear for the subregion title a year ago before losing to Gateway in the opening round of the PIAA 5A tournament. The Beavers, though, graduated their top four scorers and have no one back who even averaged 4.0 ppg a year ago.

District 10 is very strong with both Cathedral Prep, the 2021 PIAA champions in 5A, and Meadville, while District 8 features Brashear, Carrick, and Obama Academy. Brashear was 8-11, Carrick was 6-12, and Obama Academy was 12-9 a year ago.

Obama advanced to the PIAA Class 4A playoffs after knocking off Clearfield in a subregion game by a single point.

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