Belle Vernon girls basketball looks to build on playoff season

Monday, November 22, 2021 | 6:15 PM

The first year of the Kaitlyn Slagus era at Belle Vernon has to be viewed as a success. She inherited a young team, got the Leopards into the WPIAL playoffs and nearly advanced to the second round.

The second season could bring even more successes as Slagus implements more of her concepts and several key players return to the fold for Belle Vernon.

There are two graduated players who are no longer available for the Leps. Point guard Taylor Rodriguez and center Grace Henderson have moved on and leave a couple important spots to be filled in the starting five.

“We lost two key players last year to graduation in Grace and Taylor,” Slagus said. “Grace with her presence by the hoop and her ability to affect shots and grab rebounds and Taylor’s confidence on the court and motivating the underclassman will be missed.”

However, Belle Vernon welcomes back junior guard Viva Kreis, who averaged in double figures last season. But do not think for a second the Leopards do not have depth to support their game.

“Viva is a very talented player that is constantly in the gym both working on her game and training the young players. I am excited to see what she can do her junior year,” Slagus said. “However, one thing that we keep stressing to the girls is that we are fortunate enough to have a roster where we do not have to rely on one person to do it all. Sharing the ball will be key to our success this season.”

Senior guard Kaci Bitonti and junior guard/forward Presleigh Colditz are returning starters. Also back in the fold are two players who missed last season in juniors Farrah Reader and Jenna Dawson.

“We are very excited to have Jenna back on the court with us this year. She brings both leadership and a high skill level that are going to help us out tremendously,” Slagus said.

There are also several experienced players Slagus has at her disposal. Senior Tara Callaway, junior Lilly Kearns and sophomores Kenzi Seliga, Tessa Rodriguez and Caroline Lee have varsity experience and participated in summer leagues that helped improve their play.

“It has been an exciting first few days of practice having everyone back in the gym together,” Slagus said. “This past summer many of the players played in the summer league down at Court Time (Elizabeth) where they were able to play with very talented players from other schools continuing to develop their skills. As a coach, it always makes me happy when our players are out there wanting to get better.”

If the Leopards have made needed improvements in the offseason, Belle Vernon should contend in Section 3-4A. They are joined in section by Elizabeth Forward, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland, West Mifflin and Yough.

“A section title is something that every team aims for,” Slagus said. “I think our section is going to be competitive. Southmoreland returns many experienced players and are a very solid team. Elizabeth Forward and Mt. Pleasant are two other teams with veteran coaches and I am excited about what they have done this summer as well.”

Taking the Leps from a playoff contender to a section champ will take a lot of commitment and hard work. Not to mention a few other ideals.

“Discipline, competition and being focused every day in practice. If the girls buy into the process and focus on not only getting themselves better, but also getting their teammates better, I think they will be a really fun team to watch,” Slagus said.

Belle Vernon opens the season Dec. 10 in the McKeesport Tip Off. Its first section game is Dec. 16 against Mt. Pleasant.

Belle Vernon girls at a glance

Coach: Kaitlyn Slagus

Last year’s record: 9-8 (6-4 Section 3-4A)

Returning starters: Viva Kreis (Jr., G), Presleigh Colditz (Jr., G/F), Kaci Bitonti (Sr., G)

Top newcomers: Jenna Dawson (Jr., G/F)


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