‘Lot of Optimism Going Around’ for Foxes

There is a lot of optimism surrounding the Fox Chapel Area girls basketball team, and that’s understandable, as the team returns all but one member of the 2022-2023 squad that posted a 13-9 record and was eliminated from the playoffs on the last night of the season.

Sure, the lone senior on last season’s team was Elsie Smith, the team’s leading scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker, but bringing back so many other key players gives the Foxes some high hopes entering the new season.

“We were really close to making the playoffs last year,” said Foxes head coach Marty Matvey. “We went 14-4 in the offseason. There’s a lot of optimism going around, but I’m more cautious. We haven’t been healthy in the five years that I’ve been at Fox Chapel. We were in the race for the section title for the majority of the season. That just shows how tough our section was.”

A key player is senior guard Skylar Byrnes, who returns after missing most of last season due to an ankle injury suffered two minutes into the third game of the season. 

Lyla Jablon; at top, Sarah Slember

“She probably would have been our leading scorer,” coach Matvey said. “She’s had a full offseason and has recovered. She looks better than ever. I think she’s going to shoulder the load in place of Elsie in terms of scoring and rebounding.” 

Sophomore Lyla Jablon is expected to handle the point guard duties.

“She is definitely the straw that stirs the drink,” coach Matvey said. “She was thrust into a starting role last year as a freshman and did really well. She is definitely one of the strongest pound-for-pound kids in the WPIAL. Her game has severely expanded in the offseason.”

Other key contributors are expected to be seniors Isabella Barbour, Annalese Bartolacci, and Sarah Slember; juniors Sophia Jacobs, Shay Pick, Natalia Schaffer, and Bella Urso (a member of the WPIAL championship soccer team); and freshmen Emily McKee (the leading scorer of that WPIAL championship soccer team) and Taylor Stocker.

“Our girls one through eight have played a minimum of two years together,” coach Matvey said. “In the offseason, our depth was very clear, and if someone was in foul trouble or on vacation, we just went with the next person to make the next great play.”

The Foxes play in a section that again looks to be quite competitive with teams that include Armstrong, Hampton, Mars, New Castle, North Hills, and Shaler.

“Last year, we had the toughest section top to bottom,” coach Matvey said. “If our team was in any other section (last season), we would have finished second or third, and I think it’s going to be the same this year.” 

Obviously, coach Matvey hopes his team has good health this season, but there are other keys to success.

“Holding each other accountable as far as everyone doing their job and doing so in a positive and productive manner will be key,” he said. “It’s better to have a player-led team, and we try to endorse and support that throughout the offseason. Our girls have done a good job in taking that step. Now it’s how can they strive for results as individuals toward a collective goal.”