JACKSON TWP — Getting over the hump doesn’t just happen. It is often a process that includes setbacks and painful near-misses.
The Seneca Valley girls basketball team has experienced both under head coach Rob Lombardo. Now, for the first time in six seasons, the Raiders have earned a berth into the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. SV punched its postseason ticket with a 45-39 home victory over North Hills Jan. 27.
Seneca missed out on postseason play by one spot in the Section 3 standings the last two years, placing fifth in both instances.
“We didn’t want to enter the last week of the season having to win and hoping to get help from other teams,” said Lombardo. “The girls took it upon themselves to take care of our own business.”
Senior forward Katie Brown has been a member of the varsity girls basketball team for four seasons. She’s used to playing in the playoffs with the Raiders’ girls volleyball team, but getting there in basketball is uncharted territory.
“It’s been a while for the girls basketball team,” she said. “It’s great to be part of the team that finally gets there, especially with this being my senior year.”
The Raiders (10-12, 7-5) do not feature players with eye-popping statistics. Senior forward Abbie Trzeciak leads the team with 10.5 points per game. Sophomore forward Melissa Carter is securing 7.2 rebounds and blocking 2.4 shots per contest. The key is that, unlike in years past, several players have stepped up and made big plays to win section games this season. A prime example was the four-point play that junior guard Meghan Hess managed late in the fourth quarter of the recent win over North Hills. They were the only points Hess scored in the game, but gave the Raiders a lead they would not surrender.
“It’s taken a team effort,” said Brown. “We really came together this year, on and off the court.”
A non-section game at Ambridge Jan. 18 may have seemed like a blip on the radar, but the contest seemed to influence the Raiders in a positive manner.
“We lost that game by three points (40-37),” said Lombardo. “We had a chance to win, but missed two shots late in the game. It really felt like a section game and I think that is when it clicked with our girls that every game we play is going to be close. The players realized that somebody needs to step up and make the big shot, make the big play.”
Immediately after the Ambridge loss, the Raiders reeled off three straight section wins — over Pine-Richland (47-38), Shaler (57-51) and North Hills.
“Making the playoffs is a big deal,” said sophomore guard Lexus Lambert. “I’m honored to be part of it. There’s a strong bond with all of the players on the team.”
The last playoff game SV played in was a 55-25 WPIAL first-round loss to Norwin in February 2008. That team was coached by Kelly Mathews. Lombardo took over the program prior to the 2009-10 campaign and endured a pair of last-place seasons to begin his tenure.
“My biggest fear is that our players are satisfied with just getting to the playoffs,” said Lombardo, “but I recently talked with a few of them. They were asking questions about what seed we might get and who we might play. They know the last thing we want is to face a Fox Chapel (16-4) or a Mt. Lebanon (14-5) in the first round. The fact that they were interested in all of that made me feel a lot better.”