Hard-working Monessen girls basketball wants return to Class A prominence

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021 | 2:00 PM


The players on the Monessen girls basketball team know about the tradition, from the 2004 state championship to a pair of the WPIAL’s all-time leading scorers in Charel Allen and Gina Naccarato, the school’s athletic director.

They also know about the struggles, such as the winless season in 2016-17 that was part of a six-year stretch with just 25 victories.

Those memories might be more vivid for the current players, who weren’t old enough to remember the good times. But these Greyhounds are optimistic the winning can return. This year.

“We’re focused. Our team has made a lot of growth,” senior guard Mercedes Majors said. “We have unfinished business, and I’m very confident in the team and our coaches.”

Janine Vertacnik, who guided Jeannette to its first and only WPIAL girls basketball championship in 2010, has been in charge at Monessen since the 2018-19 season.

Rebuilding the program has been a steady process for the 70-year-old Vertacnik, who hopes to coach at least four more years. But the reasons for optimism are plentiful, and it starts with Majors.

A Tribune-Review second-team selection last year, the 5-foot-6 Majors is the engine that keeps the Greyhounds running.

“She plays like she’s 5-11,” Vertacnik said. “She’s diving on the floor, always defending. She’s a great captain. She instills that drive on to her teammates. Over the years, I’ve pushed her hard, but she always responds. She’s such a competitor. She’s a coach’s dream.”

Majors, who averaged 12.2 points last season, and senior point guard Kinsey Wilson could prove to be a formidable backcourt combination. They certainly give reason for Monessen to believe it will improve on last year’s 9-12 record and 7-3 mark in Section 2-A, which was good for second place.

Joining Majors and Wilson as returning players are sophomores Hailey Johnson (guard/forward) and Avanti Stitch (forward). They’ll be joined by newcomers in senior guard Zalendria Hardison, sophomore guard Sidney Campbell and sophomore forward MyAsia Majors, Mercedes’ sister.

Vertacnik hopes Hardison can provide perimeter scoring, an ingredient missing for the past couple of seasons. Monessen made just 19% of its 3-pointers last season.

And the energetic coach expects her players to improve upon last season’s dreadful free-throw shooting. Monessen went 133 for 317 (42%) from the free-throw line, which must improve for the Greyhounds to compete with Class A power West Greene in section play.

“We’ve had to rely on defense the past couple of years, and we’ll have to do that again,” Vertacnik said. “But we’re going to be better offensively. This is a good group of girls. They’re confident.”

It’s a group that played together on the AAU circuit and experienced preseason success against teams from larger classifications.

Now that sounds more like a Monessen basketball team.

“We have high expectations for ourselves. We want to win in these playoffs,” Majors said. “It would mean so much to get this program back, and we’ve been working hard to get it there.”

Monessen girls at a glance

Coach: Janine Vertacnik

Last year’s record: 9-12 (7-3 Section 2-A)

Returning starters: Mercedes Majors (Sr., G), Kinsey Wilson (Sr., G), Hailey Johnson (So., G/F), Avanti Stitch (So., F)

Top newcomers: Zalendria Hardison (Sr., G), Sidney Campbell (So., G), MyAsia Majors (So., F)

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