New coach walks into great situation with talent-rich Bethel Park girls basketball program

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Saturday, December 4, 2021 | 11:01 AM


There’s a new look to the Bethel Park girls basketball program.

Samantha Loadman is in her first year as the team’s coach, taking over for longtime legendary floor boss Jonna Burke, who resigned to become a coach and physical education teacher at Shady Side Academy.

Loadman is a local product. She graduated from Bethel Park in 2007 and was a four-year starter in basketball as a 5-foot-9 guard, amassing more than 1,000 career points and helping the Black Hawks to three section titles and one WPIAL runner-up finish.

“This job is definitely a full-circle moment,” Loadman said. “I am thrilled to be back at my alma mater. I played all four years of my high school career under Jonna Burke’s direction and began my coaching career on her staff for the 2011-2012 season. She is a great coach, and I was fortunate to inherit a team that has a strong foundation and focus on fundamentals.”

Loadman also enjoyed a standout career at Mercyhurst, racking up more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists. She began her coaching career as an assistant at Bethel Park in 2011-12 and spent the following season at Chatham.

For the past eight seasons, Loadman served as an assistant at Peters Township. The highlight of her time there was the 2018-19 season, when the Indians won WPIAL and PIAA championships en route to a perfect 30-0 record.

Loadman’s basic coaching philosophy is based on having “a well-conditioned team with an emphasis on strong defense, fundamentals and rebounding.”

The Bethel Park native took a cautious approach in offering a prediction for this year’s team.

“My early expectations include being a playoff team and competing for a section title,” Loadman said. “We have strong veteran leadership, and our ball-handling and guard play will be a big asset.”

The cupboard wasn’t left bare at Bethel Park.

Senior guards Emma Dziezgowski and Riley Miller, as well as junior guards Mary Boff and Sophia Nath, were starters at various times last year.

Two other returning letter winners are sophomore forward Becky Gillenberger and junior guard Olivia Willig. The 5-11 Gillenberger and 5-10 Nath will provide an inside presence.

“Our six returning lettermen offer a lot of versatility and can play multiple positions,” Loadman said. “It will allow us to have a great rotation and different looks based on who is in the game.”

Led by Duquesne recruit Olivia Westphal, the program’s second-leading all-time scorer, Bethel Park finished with 15-4 record in 2020-21.

“We are definitely trying to start off strong in our conference,” Dziezgowski said, “and really focus on our transition game, along with rebounding, this year. The whole team is really excited. Practice has been very up-tempo and competitive, and I can’t wait to see how our season goes.”

Dziezgowski, a 5-7 guard, owns a 4.36 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society and student government. She plans to continue her hoops career while majoring in nursing at Wheeling University.

“This year, I hope to be more vocal on and off the court,” she said, “and make sure we have really good ball movement (in games). We always need to make extra passes and find our open players.

“A lockdown defense also is going to be a huge goal for this year. Trying to get as many steals and transition buckets that we can is going to be huge for us in the long run.”

Dziezgowski, who missed most of her sophomore season with an ACL/meniscus injury, hails from an athletic family.

Her sister Maddie, a 2020 Bethel Park graduate, is a 5-10 sophomore guard/forward at St. Bonaventure. During Maddie Dziezgowski’s senior season of high school, the Black Hawks were 23-3 and WPIAL finalists.

The Dziezgowskis’ two brothers, Alex, a freshman, and Michael, who is in third grade, also play basketball. Their dad competed in baseball at Duquesne after participating in football and baseball in high school. Their mom’s sport was lacrosse.

Other players looking to make an impact for BP this season include senior forwards Katerina Velisaris and Alyjah Carter, senior guard Anna Levis and junior forwards Carley O’Mara and Bella Bomar.

The sophomore class is represented by Gillenberger and guards Logan Burke, Julia Benlock and Ella Harmon, while Ella Sabatos (G/F) is a top freshman.

“Some of these girls will get opportunities to play based on their development throughout the season,” Loadman said.

Much like the Dziezgowskis, the Black Hawks squad also could be termed as an “athletic family.”

For instance, Miller, Willig, O’Mara and Bomar competed in golf this fall. Miller and O’Mara also are members of the girls lacrosse program.

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