Young North Hills girls team focused on development

Sunday, December 5, 2021 | 11:01 AM

Jim Dudas knows that building a winner is tough. Trying to do so while playing in an ultra-competitive section and, particularly, navigating covid-19, has made the journey more complex than he likely ever envisioned.

But, the third-year North Hills girls basketball coach is optimistic about his young team, and knows that it’s time to get to work.

A year ago, the Indians struggled to gain traction, finishing 3-15 with an 0-11 mark in Section 1-6A.

What made matters worse? After starting the year with nine losses, North Hills won three of its next seven games, only to have the final five games of the regular season wiped out, causing an already inexperienced team to have next-to-no practice time before a 55-12 first-round playoff loss to perennial power Norwin.

“We were gaining a little bit of momentum going into the last third of the season, and then covid knocked us out for the last two weeks,” Dudas said. “We had no practices, and we came back, and Norwin is just a phenomenal team with great players and a great coach. It would’ve been a struggle under all circumstances. It wasn’t a very good event for us. We needed to keep working, and when we take two weeks off, it really shows.”

Dudas’ team is still young, with no seniors and a large sophomore contingent in its lineup. That’s not an ideal scenario against a section that features defending WPIAL and PIAA champion North Allegheny, Norwin as well as Butler and Penn-Trafford programs that finished above .500 last season.

“The reality of our section tempers your excitement a little bit,” Dudas said. “But there’s not a day that goes by — whether it’s our fall open gym or other things we’ve done — where I don’t say to one girl or another, look at where we are today and remember where you we’re a year ago. See how much you’ve come along.

“There’s been a lot of development. Their basketball IQ has gotten better, they’ve learned how to compete at practice.”

Dudas will hope to draw much more scoring out of his team. The Indians put up just 23 points per game last season.

“There’s not a lot of returning firepower,” Dudas said. “Scoring is going to be a challenge for us, but we’ll continue to work on it.”

Sophomore Jayden Arnett, a 5-10 forward, is a player Dudas is excited to watch grow.

“She’s athletic and very disruptive on the defensive end,” he said. “I like Jayden.”

Olivia Waters, who ran the point guard position as a freshman last year, is back, as well.

“I’m very hopeful that she has a good year this year,” Dudas added. “I think she can score a little bit, she has that ability. She’s getting smarter on both ends of the court. And I hope that she can handle the pressure a little better.”

North Hills hopes to continue developing its defense. In its three wins in 2020-21, the Indians allowed just 24 points per game, albeit against teams that struggled to score themselves.

“The whole covid thing made it difficult to do team stuff,” Dudas said. “So I can’t say that, relative to what I like to teach for defense, that we were where we need to be.”

Despite the deficiencies, he is hopeful that the team can grow over the next year or so. While Dudas wants to win now, he also understands that, with so much inexperience throughout the lineup, this could be more of a two-year plan.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working on a couple of things where we knew that we were significantly overmatched in a high percentage of our games,” Dudas said. “We know that we have major challenges, and that if we don’t do things better on the defensive end, we’re not going to be in a competitive ballgame with a lot of teams.

“But the girls had a really good offseason in terms of what they did and what they wanted to accomplish.”


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