North Hills girls look to keep rebuilding process rolling

Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 11:01 AM

A year ago, newly hired Tony Grenek looked at his North Hills girls basketball team and knew that a significant step needed to be taken.

While the end result was another postseason miss for the Indians, the team undeniably showed signs of progress, improving from a 1-21 record the year prior to a mark of 8-13 overall, and 3-9 in its section.

“I break last year down into three parts,” said Grenek, who coached collegiately at Point Park before taking over the Indians’ head job last summer. “In one part, we were fortunate to win some games. In another part, we were in a lot of close games that could’ve gone our way but didn’t. And the other part is that we were in some games in which we got blown out by 20 or more points.

“Now, the realistic goal for us is to continue to win some games, try to pull out those close ones to add to our win total, and to not get blown out and be competitive in every game.”

The Indians finished the season strong, winning four of their last five games, but struggled offensively throughout the season, averaging 42.8 points per game.

“A lot of our problem was that we just couldn’t put the ball in the hoop enough,” Grenek said. “Defensively, we played pretty well, and we hung around a lot. But our shooting wasn’t very consistent. The last six or seven games, we were able to put the ball in the hoop more.”

Included in its late-season surge were triumphs over Section 2-5A rivals Mars and Hampton — which had both defeated the Indians earlier in the season — as well as wins over New Castle and Hopewell.

But now, Grenek wants to turn the page, while taking some of that late-season momentum into the 2023-24 season. What excites him most is the offseason preparation some of his players went through by hitting the AAU circuit and participating in a couple of fall leagues under his guidance.

“I can see how much they improved just by putting some extra time and effort in,” he said. “They were able to get on the court and get the rust off a little bit.”

Leading the team will be senior guard Olivia Waters, a two-time all-section pick who has received some collegiate interest.

“You can just tell how much she’s improved,” Grenek said. “She’s quicker with the ball, a tremendous passer and floor general. Her explosiveness and confidence have really seemed to have gotten a lot better over the course of this last year.”

She’ll be joined by a host of strong supporters, including fellow senior guard Gianna Sturdivant, who was one of the players to dive into AAU basketball.

“She’s worked on her game all offseason,” Grenek added. “She has great speed, athleticism and length. There’s not too many kids that run the floor as good as her. Out of all the years I’ve coached, she’s probably one of the top three players I’ve had able to run the floor. I’m hoping that improves her scoring.”

Senior forward Mallory Pierce has refined her jump shot and is a threat from the perimeter despite having the 6-foot size of a post player. Classmate Jayden Arnett is a tough rebounder who averaged double digits on the glass last year. Giavonna Minton, a junior, is also back after working into the lineup last season.

Grenek is also looking forward to the addition of freshman Delaney Amato, who he says will play varsity minutes right away and will provide a scoring touch in the Indians’ system.

Sophia Regan and Sara Topich will also help comprise a North Hills group far deeper than Grenek had in his first season.

“We have a really nice rotation of about 10 or 11 kids who can give us some minutes,” he said.

It’s Grenek’s hope that the group plays a little more carefree than it did last year, when it went though those scoring woes.

“We’re at our best when we’re playing fast,” Grenek said. “We’re not very good if we have to run a lot of sets. We have to get up and down the floor and work off of instincts, create turnovers or score quickly. … We’re at our best when we’re not thinking and just reacting and playing.

The Indians will again compete in Section 2-5A, where Grenek feels Armstrong will once again be the favorite to win the section title. He feels Shaler may be flying under the radar, but will be a tough opponent. Hampton, Fox Chapel, Mars and New Castle round out a section that Grenek knows will provide the Indians nightly competition.

“It should be very interesting,” Grenek said. “Hopefully we can be competitive and be in the thick of things. It was nice to win a few section games last year. But it would be nicer to be in the playoff hunt that last week of the season, and maybe sneak in there somehow.”


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