Four WPIAL girls basketball players compete at national tournament
Jenna Clark, a talented backcourt player on the Thomas Jefferson girls basketball team, had a memorable 2017-18 season.
She also enjoyed an unforgettable postseason experience.
Clark competed as a member of the Bruins team in the USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Championships held March 23-25 in Colorado Springs.
The Bruins featured four top junior female hoopsters from the WPIAL — Gillian Piccolino of Keystone Oaks, Bethel Park’s Maria Cerro, Maggie Moore of Southmoreland and Clark.
“Overall, we had an amazing experience and learned a lot,” Clark said. “It was definitely something I’ll never forget.”
The national tournament took place at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Teams consisted of four players, and games were three-on-three and half-court. There were 11 teams in the girls division, along with 12 teams in the boys division.
Pool play took place Saturday morning. The single-elimination quarterfinal, semifinal and championship rounds were held Sunday.
The first team to 21 points — or the highest-scoring team after 10 minutes — won each game.
“My expectations were definitely set pretty high for this tournament,” Piccolino said. “I knew that the competition was going to be hard, and that we were going to have to play against the best of the best. I think our team did very well. I mean, we played (against) some really talented players and we definitely held our own to make it a good game every time.”
Clark, a 5-foot-8 guard, and Cerro, a 5-7 guard; teamed up with Piccolino, a 6-foot guard/forward; and Moore, a 6-2 center.
“The first day, Saturday, was five games of pool play to get seeded for Sunday, which was a ‘win-or-go-home’ format,” Clark said. “We expected to bring our all every game, and we did. I was extremely proud of all of us for playing with high intensity every game and pushing through the altitude difference.”
The Bruins ended up playing seven games and finished with a 3-4 record.
“Not the best record, but we competed with every team and got to play against the best players in the country,” Clark said. “Two of our losses were by two and three points.”
Joe Lewandowski, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and coach for the Western PA Bruins, selected the four players for the Bruins team, which practiced twice before traveling to the national championship event.
States that were represented in the 3x3 girls tournament were Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, New York, Oklahoma, Arizona, Minnesota, Washington and California; along with the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Clark helped spur the Thomas Jefferson girls squad to its best season in recent memory. The Jaguars advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA second round in Class 5A, and racked up a 21-5 overall record.
TJ was a section champion in 2017-18, as were Piccolino and the Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles in 4A. The KO girls were WPIAL and PIAA playoff qualifiers, and finished 17-6 overall.
“Playing against the best girls in the country can only make me a better player,” Piccolino said, “so I would definitely consider (the 3x3 tournament) a great experience for myself.”
Cerro helped lead the Bethel Park girls basketball team to the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals in 6A.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.