Monessen girls basketball looks to maintain momentum after playoff season

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020 | 2:50 PM


After struggling for several seasons, the Monessen girls basketball program blossomed last year, going 8-4 in section play and 15-8 overall.

The 15 victories were more than the four previous seasons combined.

Also, coach Janine Vertacnik recorded her 300th career victory Feb. 6 at Mapletown.

“I didn’t know what to expect the first year I came here,” Vertacnik said. “I saw there was some raw talent that needed developed a little bit more. But the girls worked very hard and bought into our system, and we were more of a veteran team last year.”

It was also the first winning season for the girls in eight years and their first playoff appearance in six years.

But a variety of factors, including graduation, one key player moving out of the district and others opting out because of coronavirus concerns are putting the Greyhounds back in rebuild mode for Vertacnik’s third season at the helm.

Monessen averaged 38 points per game last season and 25 of those 38 points are gone from the scoring ledger.

There are only nine girls out for the team this year — one senior, three juniors, a sophomore and four freshmen.

“I’ve thrown a lot of things at them and, surprisingly, they’ve really picked it up and their attitude’s been great,” Vertacnik said. “This is a good group of freshmen who’ll be able to carry us over the next couple of years if we can get the juniors and the senior to bring them along on the floor a little bit.”

To add to the preseason challenges, senior returnee Sydney Caterino sustained a foot injury and the Greyhounds are hoping she’ll be a full strength sometime in December, surely before the section season begins Jan. 7 at home against defending champion and WPIAL runner-up West Greene.

The two other captains besides Caterino will be Mercedes Majors and Kinsey Wilson.

Junior Zalendria Hardison, a good perimeter shooter, and sophomore Aaliyah Rice, out for basketball for the first time, will be expected to make major contributions.

“I’m excited. We’re young, but we’ve got a lot a talent,” Wilson said. “I want this season to be a successful one. We’re focused and determined.”

Even with a young team, the WPIAL playoffs are still a goal for the Greyhounds.

“I think West Greene is still the dominant team in the section,” Vertacnik said. “We lost to them by 52 down there. When they came here, we had a 19-18 halftime lead before we lost (by 16). After that, I think it’s a toss-up with Avella, Jeff-Morgan, us, Geibel, Mapletown. Any one of us can finish second, so our motto is ‘Why not us?’”

In last year’s playoff game, the Greyhounds led Aquinas Academy, 13-0, at the end of the first quarter and 17-3 at the half. Aquinas then switched to an up-tempo style and rallied to a 34-30 victory.

“Last year when we lost, I was devastated,” Wilson said. “It was really heartbreaking. I was looking forward to the second round. It makes me want to work harder.”

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good ending the way we lost that playoff game,” Vertacnik said. “Sadly, I think we panicked a little bit. We had a lead and we didn’t know how to get the momentum back. The girls think about that game a lot.”

The school has already lost its home tip-off tournament because of covid concerns at Highlands and Propel, but the Greyhounds are still scheduled to play Jeannette.

Monessen girls at a glance

Coach: Janine Vertacnik

Last year’s record: 15-8 (8-4 Section 2-A)

Returning starters: Kinsey Wilson (Jr., G), Sydney Caterino (Sr., G), Mercedes Major (Jr., G)

Top newcomers: Zalendria Hardison (Jr., G), Aaliyah Rice (So., G/F)

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