Penn Hills girls basketball team manages to thrive without injured leaders

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Friday, January 12, 2018 | 11:36 PM


Heading into the season, the Penn Hills girls basketball program knew it had to navigate a tough schedule as it learned to play without the departed Desiree Oliver.

One would think the Indians (7-5, 2-2) couldn't afford to lose their top two returning players, but the Penn Hills has exhibited the next-man-up mentality.

Junior guards Adia Brisker and Ariana Dunson have taken on bigger roles to fill in for injured junior guard Diamond-Jay Whittington and junior guard/forward Tayonna Robertson.

Brisker averages 14 points this season, and Dunson has averaged 10 points through the first 11 games.

“It's time for somebody else to step up and figure out how to get it done. The goal is to win each game by one,” coach Robert Cash said.

“We don't have to go out and beat one team by 20 points. As long as we win by one, that's a win in the win column. We are going to play it one game at a time and win by one.”

Before the season started, Penn Hills found out Whittington, who averaged 7.7 points last season, had a torn ACL.

In the fourth game of the season against Norwin, the Indians suffered their biggest loss when Robertson dislocated a kneecap.

“It was like our hearts were ripped out of us. We have one goal, one heart and one team. We come together to play together as a team. We have to play through it and keep going,” Brisker said.

“We're going to keep fighting. I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to put my butt on the line because the team is like my family.”

Cash is hoping to have Robertson, who was averaging 16 points, return in the next couple of weeks.

“She is a big-time Division I player with a lot of length and athletic ability,” Cash said. “She does a lot different things from shooting threes to protecting the rim. She helps us with handling the ball a little bit. Without her, it changes things big time

The Indians, who started 1-3 with losses against North Allegheny, Chartiers Valley and Norwin, seemed to get back in a rhythm when the Indians won five consecutive games.

The five-game winning streak started with road victories at Allderdice and Fox Chapel.

Brisker led the Indians in scoring during the streak, including 18 points against Section 2-6A foe Fox Chapel on Dec. 22.

The Indians were led by Brisker's 15 points in a 40-38 win against Winchester Thurston at Jamfest on Dec. 23. She finished with 16 points against Oakland Catholic and 14 against Connellsville at the Hempfield Tournament on Dec. 29-30.

“It's a learning process. It just teaches me how to deal with certain situations,” Brisker said. “Not just with basketball but with life situations.

“I'm learning how to lead because I have always been under the wing of Desiree Oliver. I was trying to fit in and trying to help the team win.”

However, Cash didn't like how his team performed in its 51-36 loss to Penn-Trafford on Jan. 5. Without Robertson and Whittington, Cash believes the Indians can't afford to have an off night.

“For us, I think it's just intensity,” Cash said. “If we bring intensity and fire to the game night-in and night-out, we have enough players that we are still good enough to be at the top of the section competing.

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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