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Local teams get back on the hardwood

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Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Charleroi's head basketball coach Bill Wiltz.

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Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Hopefully everyone has caught their breath from a busy football season, because winter sports in Mon Valley high schools have officially begun.

That means it was time for area boys and girls basketball teams to hit the hardwood, officially, for their first practices of the season.

“We didn't have many open gyms throughout the summer,” California Area coach Phil Pergola said. “I wanted the team to bide their time.”

Pergola, the dean of area coaches, is beginning his 43rd season as a head coach.

“Today was all right,” the coaching veteran said. “We're low in our numbers, but the kids were eager to get started.”

After WPIAL realigned conferences, California remained in Section 5-AA with familiar foes Frazier, Bentworth and Charleroi. Two new members, Jefferson-Morgan and West Greene, were added to the section, which Charleroi coach Bill Wiltz wasn't too upset about.

“Jeff-Morgan and West Greene came in and Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette went out,” Wiltz said with a laugh. “I'm not real sad to see them go. I think it gives us a real good shot.”

Wiltz said he was pleased with the Cougars' first practice Friday.

“I'll tell you what, I think we're going to be all right,” he said. “It went pretty good today. We don't have a lot of size and we don't have as many kids as I'd like, but we don't have any kids that can't play. Depth is going to be a good thing for us this year.”

Ringgold, Belle Vernon Area, and Elizabeth Forward are back together again in Section 4-AAA with Yough in 3-AAA.

After six years in the Class AA ranks, Monessen has dropped down to Class A's Section 3 with Avella, Carmichaels, Clairton, Geibel and Mapletown.

“We've moved down but our expectations haven't changed,” Greyhounds coach Joe Salvino said. “We're going to work hard and try to win a section title.”

Salvino said he had some pleasant surprises at his team's first practice.

“Justice Rawlins was injured last season, so it was nice to see him on the court,” Salvino said. “Clintell Gillaspie, who's a great athlete and Kayne Jackson participated.

“It was more like tryouts today. We had 22 kids show up today so I was pleased with where our numbers were.”

Ringgold and Belle Vernon Area also returned to practice Friday.

The Leopards, guided by second-year head coach Eric James, finished with only three wins last season (3-19), but finished strong winning two of their last four games.

The Rams will look to rebound after finishing 5-17 last season.

On the girls' side, Joe Grodz begins his first season as the Charleroi girls coach. He filled in last season for former coach Nick Mahalko who missed a few games for health reasons.

“If anyone was in the right place at the right time … I was put in a great situation,” Grodz said. “From the first time I met Nick eight years ago and he asked if I wanted to be his assistant, it seemed like he was grooming me and that this program would one day be mine. I'm honored to be able to continue the tradition here.”

Grodz said the number of players out for the team are exactly where he expected them to be.

“We were able to get together a lot over the summer,” Grodz said. “We knew who were would have here and the girls know what to expect from me as their coach. They know I'm going to work them and force them to develop as players and as a team.”

Grodz pointed out a bright spot that he saw at his team's first workout.

“Mia Woytovich is going to be a great leader this season. She's going to be a great asset,” Grodz said. “I could tell by just watching her work today with some of the younger kids. She'll definitely be a leader on the floor for our team.”

The Monessen Lady Greyhounds, led by coach Gina Naccarato finished 20-4 last season and are arguably the favorites in Section 4-A.

“I was very pleased with how practice went,” Naccarato said. “We have Mariah Ward and Chelsea Szakal back and we have some experience even with the loss of four seniors from last year. That will help offset the amount of youth we have.”

Belle Vernon Area returns to practice with both Jessica and Kaitlyn Slagus returning to lead a talented group of underclassmen in Section 4-AAA. The Lady Leps were defeated by Class AAA Champion Hopewell in the first round last season.

The Ringgold Lady Rams will look to improve on their 7-13 mark last season in 2012.

Local wrestling and swimming teams also began their practices Friday.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or

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