New coaches putting their stamps on Westmoreland County basketball programs

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Thursday, February 11, 2021 | 6:03 PM


Doug Kelly is as reflective about life as he is basketball. He takes a deep breath and pauses to mull over moments, both small and large in scope, before he moves on to the next challenge.

Why did that happen? Who is accountable? Did I do all I could?

These are some of the questions that stream through his mind.

His second go-around as a head boys basketball coach is no different. In fact, he may contemplate more now at Penn-Trafford in his daily journeys than in his past stops.

Perspective is everything.

“For me, it’s been a maturity thing,” Kelly said. “Mentally, I’m not letting the losses eat me up. I used to let things eat me up late at night. Mentally, I think I’m more of an adult. I’m not as worried about every possession being so precious. Sometimes you have to just let the kids play.”

Kelly is one of a half-dozen new coaches new pacing the sideline this season in Westmoreland County.

He joins T.J. Kravitz (Mt. Pleasant boys), Tim Gustin (Ligonier Valley boys), Emily Daugherty (Ligonier Valley girls), Amber Cernuto (Southmoreland girls), and Kaitlyn Slagus (Belle Vernon girls).

Kelly was the head boys coach at Franklin Regional from 2001-09 and won a section title in 2008. He also served as an assistant with the Penn-Trafford girls and boys teams.

He had the Warriors, who have had a knack for being in close games, in the top 5 rankings at the start of the week.

“It’s the toughness factor,” Kelly said. “You hear things about Penn-Trafford not being tough enough. It’s out there. I want to change that here. I know we have tough kids.”

Kravitz’s Vikings have been in a lot of close games, too. Mt. Pleasant lost by two to Charleroi (58-57), two to South Park (50-48), four against Elizabeth Forward (58-54) and two against Jeannette (32-30).

Cernuto, who took over a Southmoreland team that lost only a few players from a WPIAL runner-up group, said the covid-19 pandemic has been disruptive but has not deterred the team from trying to maintain a competitive edge, one based not on last year’s success but on this year’s improvements and cohesion.

“The transition has been pretty smooth despite the pandemic,” said Cernuto, a Southmoreland graduate. “That has been a big challenge with scheduling practices and games, team safety and trying to follow the school’s safety policies. There has been a lot of extra paperwork.”

Southmoreland began the season as the No. 1 team in WPIAL Class 4A but dipped to No. 4 after losses to West Mifflin and Thomas Jefferson.

Still, the Scotties took a six-game winning streak into Thursday’s section game against Yough.

“This is a fun group to coach,” Cernuto said. “They all get along very well and like to have fun on and off of the court.”

Cernuto, Daugherty and Slagus all were 1,000-point scorers at their high school programs. Ligonier Valley is new to the WPIAL, having moved over from District 6. Both teams are trying to adapt and win, something that could take time, especially starting out in such an abnormal and detached season.

Gustin was hired a week before the season as he moved over from coaching the girls team, had one open gym workout and then saw a program shutdown for eight weeks.

“It was not ideal,” Gustin said. “Once we got in the gym, finally, it has been a great experience. Moving to the WPIAL and losing three starters from last year has led to a lot of adjustments, but we are seeing improvement every day.”

The Ligonier Valley boys are 2-4 with wins over East Allegheny and Valley.

“The competition is tough, and playing schools that are the same size as us every game is definitely a challenge we are excited for,” Gustin said. “We hope to continue to get better every game as we play new teams and develop new rivalries.”

Slagus, a Belle Vernon alum who starred at Bucknell and played professionally in Ireland, has kept an open line of communication with contacts throughout her career. It has helped her transition to coaching her alma mater.

“I have talked to a lot of other coaches about what to expect,” Slagus said. “I have even bounced things off my college coaches. That’s been really helpful. It’s great to have a lot of great people as resources.”

Belle Vernon, which has a young roster, is holding strong in third place in Section 3-4A.

Like Kelly, Slagus believes multiple voices need to be heard for a team to work well together.

“It’s good to get the girls to open up more and get to know what they’re thinking,” Slagus said. “I don’t want to be one of those in-your-face coaches who screams and yells. I don’t want the girls to be scared of me.”

Kelly wanted to give his players a voice in the locker room and on the floor, but demands respect and a sound work ethic.

That being said, he is not a perfectionist and will take wins in any form.

“Every game is filled with mistakes, that’s basketball,” Kelly said. “In each, the key thing is to limit those mistakes. The team that does that usually wins.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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