By Andrew Koob
New Castle News
The playoffs offer a stage for the best teams and best players to shine or shy away from the spotlight.
Even with regular season success, the Neshannock High girls basketball team didn’t know what a change in atmosphere would do to a team with just three healthy upperclassmen.
If the recent play of Bella Burrelli is any indication, the Lady Lancers are as comfortable in the postseason as they were in the regular season.
The freshman scored a team-high 15 points in a win over Chartiers-Houston that clinched a spot in the PIAA Class AA playoffs and eight points, including a go-ahead bucket in the final minute, in a win over second-seeded Burrell.
That scoring mentality, as well as a boost in confidence, came as soon as the WPIAL Class AA playoffs tipped off.
“I think it started with the playoffs,” Burrelli, who is averaging 6.2 points for the season, said. “I was just really excited and all of the teams are good and competitive. It’s nice to call this team a playoff team. My team and my coaches, even the scorekeeper, they get me pumped up and tell me to do my best and, if I make a mistake, let it go.”
Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski credits Burrelli’s success with her versatility on both ends of the floor, as well as a positive attitude that is infectious with the rest of the Lady Lancers.
“She does a lot of little things and the beauty about her is that she can handle the basketball,” Grybowski said. “I can put her in the middle of a trap, which we’ve done as of late, and she reads and reacts well, always attacking the boards and is just an overall joy to be around. She’s always telling a joke and always stays loose. She doesn’t get nervous.”
While Burrelli’s first scholastic season has been an overall success, there has been something missing. Her sister, senior Cassidy, has been out the entire season with a torn ACL and the idea of playing with her sister was something Bella looked forward to heading into the year.
Cassidy hasn’t been able to get on the court, but she has been one of the key factors in pushing her sister to new heights.
“That was upsetting because it was her senior year and she wanted to play,” Bella said. “This was our year to play together in sports, but we still have softball. So she’s rehabbing to get better. She’s the one that really pushes me hard and she really helps get my head in the game.”
Added Grybowski, “Cass is like a coach on the bench. She’s helped a lot of our post players in different situations, but especially Bella. Bella takes that in stride and tries to listen and take head to the advice that she’s given.”
Early in the season, Burrelli was the first player off of the Lady Lancers’ bench and accepted that role. As the season progressed, however, Grybowski saw the progress that Burrelli had made and put her into the starting lineup as a reward for the on-court success.
“I truly felt she was our sixth man. From a coaching perspective when you’re looking for a sixth man, you’re looking for someone who brings you energy and something else off the bench.
“Bella was that person early and then something clicked, offensively and defensively. She started to play so well that I felt it was only fair to her and in the best interest of the team that she move into the starting lineup.”
Parents: Mark and Julie Burrelli
Known for: Scoring 23 points in two WPIAL Class AA playoff victories.
Inspiration: Katie and Cassidy Burrelli, sisters. “I’m really close with my family, everyone supports everyone.”
Future plans: “I want to keep playing volleyball, basketball and softball, keep getting better in all three and hopefully I can get some scholarships for volleyball.”