By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
FORT WASHINGTON – While western PA knows all about North Catholic’s Dacia Lewandowski and Oakland Catholic’s Alexa Washington, they got to show some of the best from around the state what they’ve got on Saturday.
Two of the WPIAL’s best seniors made the trek east to participate in the inaugural Turnpike 24 showcase game put on by PA Girls Hoops. Each made a weekend of it, Lewandowski making a visit to Philadelphia to see some of the sights while Washington hit the King of Prussia Mall and even got to go home having picked out a prom dress.
North Catholic's Dacia Lewandowksi, left, and Oakland Catholic's Alexa Washington. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
The two western PA standouts looked right at home in a game featuring some of the state’s top players, most of them seniors, held at Upper Dublin’s Sandy Run Middle School on Saturday afternoon.
“It was something different,” Washington said. “Coming across the state and playing against people who aren’t just from Allegheny County and around there was a good experience.
“It comes down to hustle and hard work, if you’re playing the game that way, you can play with anybody.”
End-of-season all-star games aren’t exactly a new thing, but most of them tend to keep things local or regional. The Turnpike 24 was designed to bring in top players from across the state and Saturday’s rosters included players from District 12, District I, the PAISAA, District 11 and District 3.
None of them had quite the travel time that Washingon and Lewandowski said, but even going four and five hours respectively, the two seniors agreed it was worth it.
“It was a good opportunity,” Lewandowski said. “Basketball is basketball, it’s still the same game regardless of who you’re playing with. We meshed well and worked out great.”
Washington, who has committed to the University of North Florida, was a four-year starter at Oakland Catholic who helped the Eagles reach the WPIAL championship game and PIAA 5A semifinals this year, the highlight being a comeback overtime win against McKeesport in the quarterfinal.
A point guard and terrific shooter, Washington averaged 16.3 ppg this season and had eight points in Saturday’s game, slashing down the lane for a layup to end the first half and two three-point hits in the fourth quarter.
“Even thinking of the WPIAL, I think it’s the top tier in PA, there’s just something about it,” Washington said. “It’s a different style of play.”
Lewandowski didn’t score in Saturday’s game but the North Catholic standout had a few assists and kept the ball humming around in a well-paced showcase where the ball rarely got stuck. North Catholic has been a power in the western part of the state, something Lewandowski helped continue with four WPIAL championship game appearances including this season’s 4A title and run to the PIAA semifinals. A first-team all-state selection in 4A last year, Lewandowski has committed to continue her career at Akron.
“Defense is a big part of the game and I think WPIAL basketball shows that,” Lewandowski said. “Everyone is big on hustling on defense, trying to get steals and letting it lead to offense.
“I think both of us wanted to represent the little things we’re big on in Pittsburgh: the hustle, the effort, assists, steals, rebounding.”
Locally, there are a lot of friendships between players at different high schools, whether it comes from AAU ties, mutual ties or any other reasons. It’s pretty similar out west too.
Lewandowski partnered with KDKA radio out of Pittsburgh for a social media series titled “One-on-One with Dacia Lewandowski,” the guard shooting around and interviewing fellow top WPIAL players that included Washington. The two have competed against each other plenty but they were pulling for each other’s teams, along with any other WPIAL squads in the mix, during the state playoffs.
“Dacia can’t say this because her team’s won many WPIAL championships but for my team, this was our first year reaching the WPIAL championship and the state semis, we made our run and it was something to be proud of,” Washington said. “We weren’t predicted to do any of that, so being underdogs making it that far meant a lot to us.”
“It was great for us this season getting another WPIAL championship, you can’t take them for granted any time you get them, the feeling doesn’t change,” Lewandowski said. “Our team this year became really close and it showed the way we grinded things out throughout the state tournament.”
Both seniors agreed the idea of the Turnpike 24 is something they’d like to see continue and grow in coming years.
“I think it was a great way to represent the entire state,” Lewandowski said. “A lot of times, it’s until the end of the state playoffs and closer to the end of the road when you start to see people from the other parts of the state. This game was a great way to see all those players all together.”
“It’s a big opportunity, for me, getting outside Pittsburgh and the WPIAL,” Washington said. “I think the top players in PA playing against each other is something that needs to be done.”
Methacton’s Kropp Taking New Path
Basketball is probably still going to be in Cassidy Kropp’s future in some way, just not at the forefront.
The Methacton senior hasn’t decided where she’ll be attending school next year, but she knows it won’t be part of a college basketball program. She had opportunities but ultimately, Kropp felt that she wanted to put academic pursuits and a desire to attend a larger university first.
She at least got a chance to suit up one more time on Saturday, scoring a hoop and assisting a couple others in Saturday’s game.
“It’s great to see all this talent come out and for us to be able to play together,” Kropp, who is considering South Carolina and Tennessee, said. “We’re kind of joining forces in a way, I was glad to have this experience.”
Kropp, who also played for the Comets in AAU, made her mark as a tough defender, a willing passer and high-energy player who rarely left the floor. She went out with a solid senior campaign, helping the Warriors reach the PAC playoffs and District I 6A field while also scoring her 1,000th point.
“I was really proud of myself,” Kropp said. “I had a couple shortened seasons in high school, so it was a big accomplishment.
“We knew we had a lot of potential, even losing a lot of seniors last year, we knew we could still compete. We knew we had to show up to every game and be ready to fight.”
Kropp actually got to go against two of close friends in Souderton’s Casey Harter and PW’s Abby Sharpe.
The senior said she’s aiming to study business marketing and is considering trying to play club ball wherever she opts to go but noted it’ll definitely feel different.
“It’s going to be tough,” Kropp said. “It’s even weird now coming home and not having AAU. It’s going to be different.”
Other Notes …
— A week later, Gabby Casey still hadn’t cooled off. The Lansdale Catholic senior, last seen dropping 28 points and 16 rebounds in the PIAA 4A title game, put on another show Saturday with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting on her way to earning Turnpike 24 MVP honors.
Playing on the same team as Gwynedd Mercy Academy’s Hannah Griffin and Archbishop Wood’s Deja Evans, both of them her AAU teammates with the Philly Belles, and LC teammates Jaida Helm and Sanyiah Littlejohn, Casey also had seven rebounds, an assist and four steals. Casey’s slated to play in the All-Star Labor Classic in two weeks then the Philly All-American game in early May to wind down her high school career before heading off to St. Joe’s.
— Penn Charter eighth grader Ryan Carter, the youngest player selected to play in the game, showed she’s more than capable of hanging with some of the state’s top upperclassmen. Carter had nine points and was very into it, getting on herself for a couple missed shots, and a fantastic assist to Northampton’s Grace Lesko late in the game.
— Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Abby Sharpe and West Chester Rustin’s Laine McGurk will be City 6 rivals in a few months, Sharpe off to Penn and McGurk to Drexel, but the duo was on the same side again Saturday as they have been the past few summers with their Runnin’ Rebels AAU team. Sharpe had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists to earn MVP honors for her team while McGurk had 10 points, two rebounds and three assists, each of them assisting the other at least once.
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