Valley girls basketball works to turn around program

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Monday, December 3, 2018 | 11:18 PM


First-year Valley girls basketball coach Ernie Sipolino was energetic at practice last week when describing what he has in mind to turn around the program.

The long-term plan is to introduce intramural girls basketball back into the elementary schools in the district and build feeder programs he said do not exist.

It will take time for those efforts to produce results at the varsity level, so in the short term Sipolino wants to change the culture surrounding practice and in games to help make the team more competitive as soon as this year.

Valley has won seven games in the last five years, and Sipolino is aware of the challenge that lies ahead, but he’s excited to take on the task.

“Nothing is going to change unless we get programs going in the elementary schools and the junior high,” Sipolino said. “We intend to do it that once we get the season going. We’re going to bring in the elementary kids on Saturday mornings to have skills and camp sessions.

“We’re losing kids to other sports because that’s what they learn to play at a young age. We’re going to try to change that. What’s better in the winter time than being in a nice warm gym and playing basketball with your friends?”

Sipolino has experience building programs. He was the junior varsity boys coach at Leechburg for 15 years and the Blue Devils’ JV girls coach for four years. He was an assistant under Jason Kerr at Valley the last three years. Kerr left for an assistant coach position under first-year Highlands girls coach Courtney Udanis.

Coming off a 2-19 season in which Valley had only eight players dress on most nights, one of Sipolino’s early goals was to get more players out for the team.

It has been a success with around 15 girls showing up to practice most nights.

“We’re getting good numbers, and the girls are working hard,” Sipolino said. “Bad habits are being broken. The girls are showing up, and if they can’t make it, they are calling to tell me. Nobody is walking on the floor anymore. They’re cheering each other on when they’re doing drills. There’s a lot of enthusiasm going on. They’re like sponges. Everything we’re teaching them, they want to learn.”

The Vikings return three starters: seniors Adriona Lyons and Auveonna Perkins and junior Deisha James.

Perkins, a guard, said she has been playing basketball since she was a toddler and grew up playing in YMCA boys leagues because there wasn’t an alternative.

She helped spread the word about the team this summer and is hopeful she can help elevate the program in her final season.

“This is my last round, so I just want to go out and play the best basketball I can,” Perkins said. “I truly love the sport. I want to help my teammates and bring a better basketball environment for the girls at Valley.”

Senior Heaven Butler, juniors Alex Guy and Dayonna Jones, sophomores Emma Ward and Lyric Alexander and freshman twin sisters Ayanna and Dymond Guy are all in the mix to see minutes.

Former Valley basketball standout Cliff Guy is an assistant along with Greg Matviko and Sipolino’s son, Alex.

Valley drops from Class 4A to 3A and plays in Section 3 with Carlynton, Deer Lakes, Derry, East Allegheny, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny and Steel Valley. The Vikings open the season against Apollo-Ridge at the Springdale Tournament on Friday.

Jerin Steel is a freelance writer.

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