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The AA and A Story
By Paul Paterra

Duquesne High School may have started out of the gate slowly this basketball season.

However, the Dukes seem to be hitting their stride and should be a force to be reckoned with in Class A in the WPIAL playoffs.

In Class AA, the teams everybody expected to do well have been such as Quaker Valley, Shady Side Academy and Aliquippa.

But nobody entered the holiday tournament week hotter than Wilkinsburg.

The Tigers collected wins in each of their first 10 games and went into Christmas as one of only four boys teams in the entire WPIAL with undefeated records (Blackhawk, Plum, Uniontown).

Wilkinsburg rides the solid guard tandem of Torry Fox and Rafael Praytor. It's been a good ride as they sport a 3-0 record in Section 3-AA. Seton-LaSalle also does. The Rebels boast a strong guard in Bruce Gradkowski.

Quaker Valley advanced to the PIAA championship game last season and shows little signs of slowing down with players like Chris Iorio and the sharp-shooting Justin Shegog.

Shady Side Academy is the defending WPIAL champion in Class AA. Several key components of last year's team are gone, but the team continues to play well. Juniors Mark Lovett and Eli Friedman lead the way. Ford City is hot on Shady Side's heels with eight wins in its first nine games.

Section 2-AA shapes up to be an interesting battle. So far, Aliquippa (3-0), Laurel (3-0) and Farrell (2-0) have stepped to the forefront with undefeated section marks. Mohawk may have lost its first two sections games, but should not be forgotten.

Section 5-AA has been led thus far by Washington (3-0), South Fayette (2-0) and Geibel (2-0). Niel Loebig - South Fayette's talented quarterback - also is a key member of the Lions' basketball squad.

In Class A, the question remains, will this be the year someone other than Duquesne or Clairton wins the WPIAL title? Those schools combined to win nine of the 10 crowns handed out in the 1990s. The only other team to crash the party was Monessen, which beat Duquesne in the 1995 championship game.

Here's a warning, the Dukes are rolling under new coach Montel Staples. After a slow start, they've stepped matters up a bit and recently captured the championship of the Pine-Richland Holiday Tournament. Don Daniels and a much-improved Ryan Blackwell provide a solid one-two punch inside for the Dukes. Blackwell was named MVP of the Pine-Richland Tournament.

One of the best records sported by a Class A team heading into the holidays was possessed by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which won seven of its first eight games.

The WPIAL finalist last year, there seems to be a mission to get back to the championship game last year. Many members of last year's team may have graduated, the Packard twins (Adam and Drew) remain to handle the duties in the backcourt.

Only Jefferson-Morgan had a better record among Class A teams with an 8-1 mark. That's not surprising. The Rockets returned each of the five starters from last year's team, which posted the best mark in school history at 17-8. Calvin Wilson - a 6-2 senior is the Rockets' main man.

Leechburg has grabbed the top spot in Section 4-A with a 3-0 mark, while Shannock Valley is 2-0 in the section

Rochester leads Section 1-A with a 3-0 mark. Vincentian checks in at 2-0. Vincentian - a WPIAL finalist in 1998 - is doing well under the guidance of new coach Buzz Gabos. Rochester can always count on lightning-quick guard Randy Bacon.