Monessen girls on mission to climb section standings

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019 | 8:04 PM


The Monessen girls basketball team appears to be serious about ending its five-year WPIAL playoff drought.

Last weekend, the girls asked for an extra half-hour of practice.

“We’re looking forward to the season,” said senior guard/forward Qitarah Hardison. “I feel like we’re going to make it far this year. We almost have the whole team back.”

That attitude suits veteran coach Janine Vertacnik.

“That should tell you we’re on a mission,” Vertacnik said. “They’ve probably played more basketball the last six months. Four or five of them played AAU. We were in the McKeesport summer league. They understand what you have to do in the offseason.”

Four starters return from last year’s team that went 5-7 in Section 2-2A (7-15 overall). The Greyhounds would have made the playoffs were it not for three buzzer-beaters that the team fell victim to.

Said Vertacnik: “We lost three heartbreakers that could have put us in the playoffs. They’re mad. They’re hurt about that. We should take that next step. There’s no reason why we can’t battle for the section championship. We should be right there.”

When Monessen last made the playoffs in 2014, it was on the tail end of a 25-year playoff run that included WPIAL titles in 1995, 2004 and 2006, with the ’04 team bringing home the PIAA title.

Marquala Green is the only starter who graduated. Besides Hardison, junior guard Sydney Caterino returns along with senior forwards Jahnell Jackson and Zykavia Hairston.

“We have so much talent on this team, I think we can win the section this year,” Hairston said. “It’s been hard. A couple of years ago, we only had about seven players. This year we have about 15. Now we can get some fresh legs on the court during a game.”

Coming off the bench and pushing for playing time will be junior forward Myonia Smith, sophomore forward Loni Scott, sophomore guard Zylinn Johnson and freshman guard Diana Thomas.

The girls and Vertacnik consider WPIAL runner-up West Greene, Avella and California as the school’s main rivals.

“The section’s going to be tight,” Vertacnik said. “When it comes down to Avella, West Greene and us, I think the three of us are equal.”

But there’s more work to be done.

“We have to be more consistent offensively,” Vertacnik said. “The heart and the desire is there on defense. We held teams to 12 points at halftime, then we’d lose the game.”

Monessen will open the season hosting a tip-off tournament against Imani Christian on Dec. 6, then will play Carrick.

Vertacnik said the team often opened at the Charleroi Tip-off tourney, but thought it was time to have something at home. The Greyhounds will be able to show off their new uniforms and shoes on the home floor.

“You play good, you look good and feel good,” said Vertacnik, who won a WPIAL title while with Jeannette in 2010 and has 287 career victories.

A former player at Yough, she also inaugurated the program at Pitt-Greensburg.

Greyhounds assistants will be Andre Williams and former Monessen standout Christina Chuckweudo.

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