Dori Oldaker expects a day at Kennywood when her Mt. Lebanon girls basketball team takes to the court.

“Basketball and life is a roller coaster,” the Blue Devils head coach said. “There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. So put your hands up in the air, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.”

This winter, the ride could feature more highs than lows as the Blue Devils return four starters from a team that finished 17-4 overall after losing to North Allegheny in the Class 6A semifinals. Lebo also tied rival Upper St. Clair for first place in Section 2 with a 6-0 record.

Ashleigh Connor leads the charge. A St. Louis recruit, she ranked among the WPIAL scoring leaders last year with a 21-point average. She also managed 6.2 rebounds per game.

Seniors Brooke Collins and Reagan Murdoch, as well as junior Anna Streiff, all return to the starting line up. Collins has committed to play at Middlebury in Vermont while Murdoch is a lacrosse recruit for American University.

Morgan Palmer is the lone starter to have graduated from a season ago.

“We have a lot of depth to fill the vacancies from last season,” said Oldaker. “Our whole junior and sophomore classes, plus maybe some freshmen, will step up. Our practices have been super competitive.”

Gina Smith is emerging as one of the team’s top replacements. A junior guard, she is the sister of Patrice Smith, who played for the Blue Devils before becoming a member of Columbia University’s track and field team.

Tori Pettko also should contribute. She is a junior forward.

Among the other rostered players that Oldaker will rely upon include Abby Baer, Sarah Hudak, Ava Dziubek, Macie Miller, Chloe Desnain, Jenny Smith, Bella Bilec, Olivia Maher, Payton Collins, Riley Collins, Nora Austin, Shea McCarthy and Clare Cramer.

“Our team strengths are we have a lot of depth and we will play as a team. We care about each other,” Oldaker said.

In addition to improving their outside shooting percentage, the Blue Devils’ primary concerns are to get better every possession, drill, practice and quarter they play each game.

“Trust the process,” Oldaker said. “When the players are coachable, really good things happen. Lucky for us, we have coachable kids.”

Oldaker’s coaching staff consists of three former Division I players in Jaclyn (Babe) Delsardo, Alex (Gensler) Bellovich and Madison Cable. Babe and Cable played for Oldaker at Lebo while Gensler is an Upper St. Clair product that competed at Duquesne University. Cable was a standout at Notre Dame while Babe played two seasons at Duquesne before transferring to Central Connecticut.

Mike Semplice and Justin Binion are also second-year coaches on Oldaker’s staff.

“They all bring a plethora of coaching knowledge and experience,” Oldaker said.

The Blue Devils anticipate Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park and Peters Township to present their stiffest competition in the section. The Panthers were WPIAL finalists last season and the Indians won a PIAA title three years ago.

“There are no nights off in this division,” Oldaker said.

The Blue Devils open the season with home games at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 against Altoona and Dec. 18 against Norwin. Section action starts at home with Canon-McMillan Dec. 20.

Lebo will face BP Jan. 10, PT Jan. 13 and USC Jan. 17.

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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