Former assistant Amber Cernuto takes over Southmoreland girls basketball program

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020 | 6:36 PM


While taking a year off for personal reasons, Amber Cernuto was able to watch Southmoreland girls basketball from a different vantage point.

She didn’t mind buying tickets to see this team play.

Even from the bleachers, the former assistant coach could see the budding talent and potential from a group of girls she had come to know well, having worked with them for several years.

Like the droves of fans who came out of the woodwork in Alverton and Scottdale, she witnessed the team’s unprecedented run to the WPIAL finals and PIAA playoffs.

Now, she will reunite with most of those players on the bench again as the next head coach of the Scotties.

The district stayed in-house with Cernuto, the successor to Brian Pritts, whom she coached under for two years at the varsity level and eight overall as the middle school coach.

Pritts resigned in April.

Pritts and Cernuto helped to build the elementary program and spawned interest and success up the ladder. An example of the growth in numbers was the return last year of a junior varsity team.

This past season was partly a culmination of that youth movement and of a rebirth of expectations for the Scotties, who returned to relevance and finished 25-2 (22-0 during the regular season).

“It was a great season to watch,” said Cernuto, a teacher at the district’s primary center.

Cernuto, 42, is the mother of rising sophomore point guard and soccer standout Olivia Cernuto and rising senior quarterback and basketball player Zach Cernuto.

“I had pondered (becoming a head coach) for a while; Brian and I had talked about it,” Amber Cernuto said. “I took a year off to be a mom, but I missed (coaching). A lot of these girls I worked with since they were in third and fourth grade. I have tough shoes to follow up with. Brian had two very successful stints.”

A 1,000-point scorer who also played softball and volleyball at Southmoreland in the mid-1990s, Cernuto will inherit a team that will return several key pieces from its banner-year team. That includes leading scorer and Tribune-Review Westmoreland Player of the Year Gracie Spadaro, who will be a junior; Olivia Cernuto, a 16-point-per-game scorer as a freshman; junior Delaynie Morvosh; and sophomore forward Maddie Moore.

Those girls all helped Southmoreland win its first section title since 2007. Sarah Pisula, Charity Henderson, Carlie Collins and Erika Sherbondy — a talented senior foursome — will move on to college.

The program could be good for several years due to the returning talent. Cernuto is anxious to start open gyms once covid-19 restrictions are lifted and athletes can return to indoor facilities.

“We’ll miss the seniors,” Amber Cernuto said. “And we didn’t have any juniors who played last year. Our freshmen this year took a big step and we have some incoming freshmen who also will help us.”

Defense was the Scotties’ forte for the last few years. They allowed just 33.9 points across 29 games last season.

Much of that had to do with height and clogging the lane to keep teams from attacking the rim. A more guard-oriented, and maybe faster, team could lie ahead but look for defense to remain a staple.

“I am going to build on what Brian did and add a few variations,” Cernuto said.

Coaching her daughter means a lot to Cernuto, but it was not the driving force behind her move to return to the sidelines.

“I have high expectations for my kids,” Cernuto said. “It will be a challenge. It might be more difficult for her than it will be for me. I want her to know I am the coach on the court and mom at home. We’ll have to adjust to those roles.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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