Greensburg Central Catholic basketball teams in unfamiliar position

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Friday, January 12, 2018 | 2:28 PM


Greensburg Central Catholic has been a reload, not rebuild program in both boys and girls basketball for decades — practically to a fault.

They are playoff regulars and perennial section contenders, and are almost always steeped in talent.

But so far this season, both teams have acted out of character. They are battling below-.500 records and fighting for playoff spots.

The Centurions' proud reputation precedes them, but is there reason to panic? Is the sky falling in Carbon?

“No way,” girls coach Joe Eisaman said. “It's been a little different, yes, but the section still runs through us.”

The GCC girls took a 4-6 record into Thursday's game at Beth-Center, including a 3-2 mark in Section 3-2A, which was tied with Frazier.

The girls program has not had a losing season since the 1970's and has not missed the WPIAL playoffs since 1999-2000.

“We judge success here on how far we go in the WPIAL and PIAA state playoffs,” Eisaman said. “This team reminds me of our team from two years ago. We ended up taking third (place in the section) and making a nice run.”

That team started 3-3 but ended up reaching the WPIAL championship game as a No. 14 seed. It finished 18-11.

This one still appears to be finding its footing. Eisaman has backed off his preseason claim that his team is in “survival mode” and that he'd hold the ball if needed to make up for a light bench.

“We played another brutal (nonsection) schedule to get us ready for section play,” said Eisaman, who has led GCC to four section titles in six years. “That is our focus.”

Boys first-year coach Jim Nesser, meantime, is trying to bring his team back from a 1-10 start and a current six-game losing streak.

GCC is 1-2 in Section 1-2A, a spot from the bottom.

The boys have won 20 or more games in each of the last seven seasons and have qualified for the WPIAL postseason 17 straight years. Its last losing season came in 2002-03.

Last year's team went 25-2 overall and 12-0 in section. But it lost eight seniors, including all five starters and top two reserves.

“We're getting better and learning to play as a team,” Nesser said, “but that needs to start equaling wins. Losing is very hard.”

A demanding coach with a distinctive tone during games, Nesser is seeing improvements in his inexperienced group.

“Eight seniors graduated; we learned from them but it's a lot different now,” junior guard Joel LoNigro said. “It's all of our first time playing together. It's a learning experience.”

GCC has taken its lumps. It lost by 30 to Penn-Trafford and Belle Vernon, and Highlands dropped the Centurions, 94-48.

But there were also bright spots. GCC only lost 51-46 against Aliquippa and 46-40 against Washington — both winning Class 3A programs.

“I am used to ups and downs,” Nesser said. “My first year at Elizabeth Forward we were 2-22. Now at GCC it's more like a public school situation. It's about inexperience and retooling. We have been competitive, just not consistent enough.”

Nesser said he has had restless nights trying to figure out ways to help the team turn a corner.

“I didn't know what we had coming in,” Nesser said. “I didn't get to see any of our kids play. But I didn't feel any pressure, either. It's all about us getting better every day. It needs to be about patience, repetition and fundamentals.”

GCC's girls went 19-6 last season (14-0 in Section 3) and reached the WPIAL semifinals. This year's group started 1-5 but settled in by winning three of four, including victories over former section foe Burrell (45-39), and a fast-paced, 67-64 home section win over Frazier.

“We had to get used to playing together and get our confidence back,” GCC junior guard Anna Eisaman said. “We still want to win the section. Each game, we're getting closer to where we need to be.”

Norwin transfer Melina Maietta, a sophomore guard, will be eligible to play later this month. Soccer standout Sydney Ward joined the team late. Suddenly, a thin roster of seven grew to a more respectable nine.

“We know how good (the program) has been over the years,” GCC junior guard Bella Skatell said. “That gives us more will to win.”

Nesser said a lack of team activities, “togetherness,” in the summer played a part in the Centurions' stunted growth. With players doing other activities and no head coach in place after the resignation of Dr. Greg Bisignani — now an assistant — the team was lucky to have three players together at once.

Nesser came on board in late July.

“Me, Geoff (Helm) and Bis (Ryan Bisignani),” said LoNigro, who was on last year's team that reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA 2A quarterfinals.

Joe Eisaman also can cite reduced summer participation as a reason for his team needing time to jell.

“We had eighth-graders playing because we only had maybe five girls in the offseason,” Eisaman said. “This is the first year I haven't had a full team in a lot of the offseason stuff.”

But will it be the first year that does not include any postseason “stuff?”

“We fully expect to be there,” Joe Eisaman said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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