The Geibel High School Lady Gators joined a short list of great WPIAL teams with their run of four WPIAL Class AA titles from 1993-1996.
They were among squads who dominated WPIAL Girls basketball. The list includes Penn Hills which strung together seven consecutive WPIAL AAAA titles from 1986-1992, Oakland Catholic with four consecutive AAAA championships from 1999-2002 and Aliquippa who captured four straight AA championships from 1987-1990.
“There was some pretty good competition back then in Class A and AA,” former Geibel Coach George Bortz recalled. You always had Greensburg Central Catholic. It developed into a great rivalry.
“They used to come up to Geibel and it was a sellout for a girls game. They put bleachers up on the stage so they could get enough people in there.”
Bortz took over the head coaching reins at Geibel from Terry Jamison in 1992. Prior to that he had been a fixture on the bench as an assistant coach since 1988.
Bortz came into a perfect storm when he took over as head coach of the Lady Gators.
“There was a core group of Alison Watts, Tara Cochrane, Robin Guerriere and Meggan Seighman,” Bortz said. “They all played at St. John’s. There was great chemistry, I didn’t know any of them, I never paid attention.
“The first year they got to Geibel, I took over as head coach.
“These girls, some of them I’d never seen before. It was amazing. They had some good training because they were together coming up to high school. They meshed so well even with kids on the team who had not played with them before.”
“We had a group that goes went to the days at St. John’s middle school under Coach Ann Capozzi. That group included Guerriere and Watts and a year ahead of us was Erin Rupp,” Cochrane recalled.
“If you go back to our eighth grade year at St. John’s we won the state tournament, so I think we saw the run of success coming because we knew that we had something special and we were a very talented group of young girls.
“We really wanted it, we worked extremely hard and it wasn’t something we did during the season.
“We all played AAU ball for Chris Cluss in the off season. We worked hard during the summer with conditioning and we all had a dream to play college sports.”
“The entire team enrolled at Geibel when I was a freshman,” Guerriere said. “We had seniors that went to St. John’s we played with. The girls also joined the team and met up with us at Geibel, from St. Mary’s or Conn Area or St. John’s Byzantine.
“So it was a group of girls that not only played together, but knew each other, competed against each other in the CYO Leagues for years. It just kind of all meshed into one big group when we made it to Geibel.
“In eighth grade at St. John’s it was me, Tara Cochrane, Alison Watts, and we actually won the CYO state championship held in Pittsburgh. When we were in seventh grade. Erin Rupp was also on our team. She was a year ahead of us.
“When we were in seventh grade we were in Reading, participating in the CYO state championship. There was three years where St. John’s was participating in state championships at the Catholic School grade school level.”
That core group of girls accomplished some great things at Geibel. They compiled a record of 106-9 in their four years (this includes state playoffs).
They won WPIAL championships in 1993, 94, 95 and 1996, and had undefeated seasons until falling in the PIAA playoffs in 1994 and 1995.
Geibel’s string of WPIAL championship game victories came at the expense of Greensburg Central Catholic three times: 1993 Geibel 54 Serra Catholic 34, 1994 Geibel 57 Greensburg C.C. 49, 1995 Geibel 65 Greensburg C.C. 54 and 1996 Geibel 57 Greensburg C.C. 54.
“It was special to have back-to-back undefeated seasons,” Cochrane explained. “Play in the PIAA tournament was so disappointing. How can you be undefeated, have four WPIAL titles and never make it to the state finals?
“It was very disappointing and I think our senior year we were so motivated to do that and it didn’t happen. It’s kind of like the chink in your armor.
“That was the thing to keep us humble because we had experienced so much success except for that final piece.”
Bortz seemed to be able to push the right buttons with the Lady Gators.
“I laughed when I read I yelled at them so much,” Bortz explained. “I guess that was my demeanor, I was pretty tough, I wasn’t easy on them. We never had any of them want to quit or talk back, I never had any of that. I have to admit now after it’s all over, I was pretty tough on them.”
“I had a really good relationship with Coach Bortz,” Guerriere stated. “Even to this day I still see him on a pretty regular basis. He was tough, he was fair and he knew how to get you to play. He knew the buttons to push to get the results.”
Looking back Bortz takes pride in what they accomplished at Geibel.
“It means more to them at this point than it did for me,” Bortz offered. “And that’s the way I want it to be and I’m glad it is that way. I’m old school and I went game to game and all I thought about was the next game.
“I can remember the wins, but mostly the losses. The part that makes me happy if you look at all the wins we played up a lot. We had a lot of wins against AAA and AAAA teams.”
“We always knew that was a unique moment in time for us,” Cochrane recalled. “I think when you’re real young you don’t realize how precious life is, and that you really need to live in the moment. For some reason I feel like we did. We always knew that. We always knew we had a unique opportunity.”