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Defense Powers Avonworth to Class 3A Girls’ Title



WPIAL Girls' Basketball
Images by Jared Todhunter

After upsetting the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL 3A Girls’ tournament, No. 4 Avonworth had the championship within reach. All that stood in its way was the top team from the other side of the bracket, the Laurel Spartans.

Fueled by its stout defense – the best in 3A – Avonworth closed out a 48-40 victory to claim its first WPIAL title since 2005.


Junior Rebecca Goetz and sophomore Greta O’Brien went to work for the Antelopes to help seal the win and experience that championship feeling.

“It feels crazy,” O’Brien said. “We’ve been working really hard, so it’s really exciting.”

“I’m still wrapping my head around it, it’s crazy,” Goetz added.

Avonworth’s (19-5) championship season started slow, but first-year head coach Nick Dizon guided the Antelopes to 12 straight victories to close out the title run. 

“When the job opened, I was really excited to have the chance to get it,” Dizon said. “When I got it, I saw the grit and competitiveness and the will to want to win. Over the course of the year, things started to show and it made me think we really have a shot at this.”

Dizon’s defensive philosophy was put on display as Avonworth (19-5) frustrated a high-scoring Laurel (24-2) in the championship tilt.

“If you play defense, you have a chance to win every game,” Dizon said. “Even if you don’t have a great shooting night, we prepare scouting reports and the girls know them like the back of their hand. We know defense sometimes comes down to the little things and our girls take pride in that.”

The defensive preparation paid off as the Lopes made it difficult for Laurel to get anything going The Spartans struggled to penetrate in the first half along with Avonworth forcing several turnovers. 

“They were very aggressive,” said Laurel head coach Jim Marcantino. “We did a good job in spurts moving it, but we had trouble in certain matchups.”

As the defense swarmed Laurel, on the other end, the offense put together two runs to propel the Lopes to a halftime lead. An 11-0 run spanned the back half of the first quarter into the first few minutes of the second quarter. 

Laurel made some adjustments in the locker room and came out in the second half looking like the offensive team Laurel saw in the semifinals.


Johnna Hill was instrumental in the Spartan comeback with four quick points in the opening minutes of the second half. Then, Danielle Pontius buried an open three to tie the game. Laurel would eventually take its first lead since the first three minutes of the game. However, Avonworth would quickly take the game back into its hands and would not look back.

“We knew they were a third quarter team,” Goetz said about Laurel. “We expected that and had that in our head. We knew that we are also a third quarter team and we get a lot of energy in the third quarter, so we just kept going.”

Heading down the stretch, Goetz and O’Brien turned it on for the Antelopes. After only four points late in the first half, O’Brien found her rhythm by adding four points late in the third quarter, including a deceiving pass fake that led to an open look on a drive. 

“I just kept pushing,” O’Brien said. “I was working on other things that would help contribute to the team.”

O’Brien finished with 10 points and added seven rebounds, along with two assists and a steal in the championship clinching effort. Goetz led the Lopes with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

With the offense coming up clutch, especially down the stretch for Avonworth, it all came without a made three-pointer, something that is not unfamiliar to the Lopes.

“Sometimes we shoot it well, and some days we struggle and it’s something we are going to try and work on,” Dizon. “That goes back to the point about defense. If we defend, we always have a chance to win.”

Without the three ball, Avonworth found success scoring in the paint. The Lopes were 34.8% from the floor.

As the offense clicked when it mattered, the defense continued to work against Laurel’s top players. The Antelopes also held Regan Atkins to eight points as she averaged 15.9 points per game on the season.

“We knew we had to keep an eye on her and [Hill],” O’Brien said. “We had to know where they were on the court at all time.”

Hill led all scorers with 16 in the losing effort.

Now, both Avonworth and Laurel will head to the PIAA State tournament. The Antelopes will face the No. 6 team from District 6 while Laurel will take on the No. 3 team from District 10.

“We are happy right now and they should be happy and proud of themselves,” Dizon said. “At the right time, we will get ready to focus on states.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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