North Hills girls take significant step forward

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Saturday, February 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The 2022-2023 North Hills girls basketball season was one built around learning. That includes the team’s players, as well as its new coach.

But those lessons — even the tough ones — paid off late in the year and could have the Indians’ program bound for something much bigger in the future.

“You want to play better basketball at the end of the year than the beginning of the year,” said first-year coach Tony Grenek. “And I thought that we did that.

“I’m disappointed that we’re out of the playoffs and not competing for a WPIAL championship, but by the same token, we definitely played our best basketball at the end of the season.”

North Hills finished the season 8-13 and 3-9 in Section 2-5A. While it wasn’t a winning year, it was a drastic improvement from the 1-21 campaign the year before.

The Indians began the year by winning four of their first five games but then stumbled, dropping the next 11 contests. But Grenek’s team snapped out of the rut Jan. 24 with a 52-42 win over Hopewell.

“When we hit that stretch where we lost quite a few games in a row, we just needed that victory under our belt to boost our confidence,” he said. “We lost a few nail-biters that could’ve put us over the hump. But we’re not there yet.

“Once we got that taste of victory again against Hopewell after going through that drought, that kind of boosted some confidence that we can pull out some of these close games.”

And they did just that. The Indians scored a win over New Castle before pulling off two of the more surprising upsets of the season by winning at Mars, 51-45, and topping Hampton, 52-46.

Mars shared the Section 2-5A title, and Hampton made the playoffs as well.

“We practiced great all season,” Grenek said. “We were upbeat, energetic. The old saying is you want to practice as you play, but we kind of took the opposite. I told them that we need to play like we practice.

“By the end of the year, we were starting to get it mentally.”

Junior Olivia Waters led the team in scoring, including a 20-point outburst in the victory at Mars.

“She had some very nice games down the stretch for us,” Grenek said, while highlighting his team’s deep junior class.

“Jayden Arnett consistently rebounded. She rebounded every single game. She averaged double-digit rebounds, night in and night out.”

Another junior, Gia Sturdivant, helped up the tempo offensively, while senior Taty Bermudez also played a major role in an offense that improved its points-per-game average by nearly 23 per game from the prior year.

“We really had some good moments this year,” Grenek said. “There’s no doubt that the future is very bright for us.”

Grenek believes that can be the case not just next year but for years to come, as North Hills has plenty of talent coming up through the ranks. The school’s seventh grade team went 22-0. The eighth grade team went 14-7. And the junior varsity squad finished 9-8.

“We all kind of got a taste of winning,” he said. “Hopefully that carries over into the offseason.”

Before Grenek arrived, North Hills had no varsity players with AAU experience in the offseason, he said. That’s changing, in a major way. He anticipates at least seven or eight players will play competitively following the completion of the high school season. They’ll also have an organized summer and fall league that they’ll play in as a team.

“It’s fantastic,” he added. “It means they want to play. For me, as long as they’re playing, I’m happy.”

The Indians have room to grow after losing six games by single digits. But Grenek, who freely admits that the season was a learning experience for him following a long run as a collegiate coach, feels like his team could be on the cusp of being very good, very soon.

“It was a positive environment,” he said. “When it’s a positive environment and the team is having success and having fun, you know the kids are going to stick around.

“Hopefully we made some great strides forward. … Hopefully we can bring some pride and tradition to North Hills basketball.”

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