New coach sets lofty goal for Highlands girls basketball

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Sunday, November 20, 2022 | 6:14 PM


Finding a way to adjust to a new coach can be difficult.

But in the case of some players on the Highlands girls basketball team, they have a bit of a history with first-year coach Shawn Bennis. He has coached at the AAU level with the PK Flash AAU program.

While he didn’t know every player on the roster, seeing a few of the girls before made it easier for Bennis to adjust.

“It’s helpful to not have to learn new names,” Bennis said. “I did have to learn some of the girls’ names, but seeing some of them as players before and coaching AAU helps me recognize some of their strengths and weaknesses.”

Bennis hopes to improve by getting a veteran roster to think better on their feet when they open the season against Fox Chapel on Dec. 2 at the Freeport Tournament. Highlands is returning four starters, all juniors: Kalleigh Nerone, Jocelyn Bielek, Kate Myers and Shelby Wojcik.

“I think at times, they are used to being robotic,” Bennis said. “One thing I’ve always done with coaching is my goal is to teach them how to play the game, not just run patterns and be robotic. We want them to be able to read the defense and take what the defense is giving them and not always look at the same option.”

Last season, Highlands finished second in the section and had a 19-5 record overall. The Golden Rams advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals and beat West Mifflin before suffering a loss to Southmoreland.

What Bennis likes so far is how well everyone works together.

“They are a cohesive group,” Bennis said. “They hang together, and they get along well. They pick up different drills faster than players who don’t have experience. We’re able to move onto things quicker because of that.”

Highlands will be in a competitive conference with Derry, Freeport, Greensburg Salem, Knoch, North Catholic and Valley. The Trojans are a perennial power, and the Knights advanced to the WPIAL Class 4A final last season.

Highlands is in search of its first section title since 1975.

“I keep reminding them of that,” Bennis said. “They did well and won a playoff game last year. We want to be able to set our goals higher. We want them to go out and do their best to bring a section championship to Highlands. We keep focusing on that.”

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