Opportunity knocks for underclassmen on Deer Lakes girls roster

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Thursday, November 21, 2019 | 5:33 PM


Reese Hasley is confident and focused forward.

On the cusp of a new season for the Deer Lakes girls basketball team, the sophomore guard said she sees a group of players who can contend for a WPIAL playoff spot despite losing four multiyear starters to graduation.

“We’re a young team, but a lot of us have been playing together for a while,” said Hasley, the lone returning regular starter from last year’s team that posted a 17-7 overall record, a 10-4 mark in Section 3-3A and qualified for the postseason for the fifth year in a row.

“I think the chemistry will be there. We put in the work in the offseason, and I think it’s going to show.”

Anna Solomon, Victoria Keibler, Julia Hollibaugh and Abby Buechel combined to score nearly 30 of the team’s 46 points per game last season.

“I think we have what it takes to surprise some people,” Hasley said. “People, I think, are looking at who we lost more than the talent we have back and also coming up. There are several spots to fill, and everybody knows that and has been working hard for it. That’s a really good thing.”

Coach Dave Petruska said he saw a lot of positives from offseason scrimmages and open gyms, and that productive work has continued into the first week of preseason practices.

“The biggest objectives in the early practices have been to find out exactly what our vision, mission, goals and expectations are,” he said.

“We are so young with one senior, two juniors and the rest freshmen and sophomores. Yes, there are big shoes to fill, but they all wanted to look forward to what this year’s team could become, and they put in a lot of good work to gain confidence and get ready for the season. I’ve seen so much growth from everybody.”

The Lancers will be able to see just how far they’ve come with a home scrimmage at 1 p.m. Saturday against Apollo-Ridge before another scrimmage Monday at Pine-Richland.

“It will be really important to see where we are and what we need to work on,” Hasley said.

Hasley led the team in scoring last year at 11.1 points per game, made 33 3-pointers and averaged 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.7 assists.

“Reese has become very vocal in a positive way,” Petruska said. “She’s someone who is almost a general on the floor reinforcing what the coaches are saying. The other girls, especially the younger ones, are really responding to her leadership.”

Junior guard Cameron Simurda (3.6 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 46 steals) returns after making five starts among her 23 games played last year, and Petruska expects her to have an increased role and presence at both ends of the court.

Junior Jenny Butler and sophomore Nikki Fleming, both guards, also seek larger roles after appearing in 16 and 13 games, respectively, last season.

“Jenny was a steady presence throughout the entire offseason. She sees that opportunity to be that leader as an experienced upperclassman,” Petruska said. “Nikki is someone who embraces working hard. She also went and found an AAU team to get more experience. She really dedicated herself to making herself better.”

Petruska said he’s excited to have senior Makayka Blair in the fold.

Blair, a softball standout who signed to play at Division II West Liberty State earlier this week, hasn’t played basketball for the Lancers since eighth grade.

“She is very committed and has shown a lot of growth after missing three years of basketball,” Petruska said. “She is someone who has a high ceiling because of her athletic ability and a natural gift for the game.”

Petruska said a number of other sophomores and freshmen are in the mix for time in the rotation.

Shady Side Academy hopes to defend its Section 3 title, and it will make the attempt with a new coach.

Several starters graduated from the WPIAL runner-up Indians, including Ariana Goitz, a 1,000-point scorer as a senior.

Carlynton, the Section 3 runner-up, features Mount St. Mary’s commit Jada Lee.

Deer Lakes hosts a season-opening tournament Dec. 6-7. The Lancers will face Avonworth and Riverview.

“We’ve only had a couple of practices so far, but I’ve seen some very big strides from this team,” Petruska said. “The season is coming fast, and I definitely think there is some urgency but in a positive way. The girls realize what they have to do as a pack to be ready.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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