Seton LaSalle girls ‘hungry’ to get back on track as playoffs start

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Monday, February 10, 2020 | 4:39 PM


It wasn’t the finish the Seton LaSalle girls basketball team anticipated.

The Rebels lost their final three regular-season games to end up in second place in Section 2-3A.

After rolling along at 11-0 in league play and 14-4 overall, the Seton girls planned to regroup and refocus in preparation for the upcoming WPIAL playoffs.

“The good thing about playoffs is that everyone is starting back on the same page of 0-0,” said Jordan Giles, the Rebels’ second-year coach. “My girls had some great success this year, making big strides, and I think surprised many people.

“We did have a little setback at the end of the regular season, but I think it is only making the girls more hungry and ready to go into playoffs.”

South Park, the defending section champion, edged the Seton girls, 46-40, on Feb. 6 on the Rebels’ home floor. With the win, the Eagles claimed sole possession of the top spot with a 12-2 record.

Seton LaSalle dropped to 11-3 and into the runner-up position in the final section standings. Charleroi (10-4) and Brownsville (7-7) took third and fourth place.

South Park, Seton LaSalle and Charleroi are all 14-7 overall.

“Just like everyone else, the ultimate goal is to win the WPIAL championship,” Giles said. “But the most important thing for us is to take it one day and one game at a time.

“We are going to really take this time (in practice) to work on our fundamentals, fine-tune our skills and make sure that we are doing it together. We are our best when we are playing as one. One team, one family.”

Last year, the Rebels finished third in section play, landed a No. 10 seed for the playoffs, then lost to No. 7 Deer Lakes 47-32, in the first round to end up 11-11.

“Going into this season, we knew there was going to be more consistency,” said Giles, who is a newlywed and new mom. “For our seniors, this is the first time they had the same program and coach two years in a row. We all now understood each other and the system that’s in place. We always set high expectations for the girls; (there are) no excuses. There is a lot more trust.

“We want to have a strong playoff run, going further than last year.”

Seton LaSalle is led by seniors Chloe Lestitian, Sarah Merlina and Vanessa Hudson, who averaged 11.9, 11.4 and 11.1 points per game, respectively, this season.

Lestitian, who stands 5-foot-7, and Merlina, at 5-6, are backcourt players. Hudson is a 5-8 forward.

Lestitian is the team’s second-leading rebounder. She is a two-year starter, four-year letterwinner and two-year captain. She also plays volleyball in the fall and lacrosse in the spring.

“Our team has a tremendous work ethic, and I’m very proud of us,” Lestitian said. “We work really well as a team, and we know how each other plays. We understand our roles and work each day to fulfill them in order to help the team in whatever way we can.”

Merlina also is a two-year starter, and she has earned three varsity letters in basketball.

“I knew going (into the season) teams didn’t think we would do very well,” Merlina said, “but they weren’t ready for us. I don’t think teams knew what we were capable of doing. We just try to play game by game, but in the end, I think we could have a good playoff run if we play as a team.”

Hudson, another two-year starter, battled through injuries early in her career. She averages a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) for the Rebels.

“At the start of the season, my expectation was to win section,” Hudson said, “but now I would like to make it to at least the third round of the playoffs — the whole way, if possible — because we are good enough to get there. We all just have to want it more than the other teams.”

Other integral contributors for the Rebels include junior point guard Emma Walsh and sophomore guards Ava Dursi (8.4 ppg) and Mackenzie Canavan.

Walsh averages four assists per game. Lestitian, Merlina, Hudson and Walsh all started in 2018-19.

“The girls have really been coming together and supporting one another. They do their best when they play together,” said Giles, who is assisted by Devin McGrath-Krummert, another newlywed. “I always tell them, when they play as one, they can be unstoppable.

“It is all about trusting one another, knowing they have each other’s back. That is one of their biggest strengths. Every day, we end our practices and games with ‘family.’ When we do that, I know they really mean it.”

Other reserves for the Rebels include sophomore guards Mara Tucci, Paige Prusak and Bella Grimm (G/F), plus freshman backcourt prospects Anna Martellotti, Kyleigh Donnelly and Presley Lucas.

Giles, whose maiden name is Burkes, graduated from Montour in 2007 and continued her basketball career at Seton Hill, where in 2018 she was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Prior to coaching at Seton LaSalle, Giles was an assistant at Montour for four years and Chartiers Valley for three. Her coaching philosophy revolves around “family.”

“Communication, effort and heart are key,” Giles said. “It is about having intensity and playing the right way. We are a family.”

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