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Pritts returns to guide girls squad

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 9:02 p.m.
Junior Mariah Bentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the first game of the season. Kelly Vernon | Independent-Observer

The Southmoreland girls basketball team has dipped into the past for its head coach and he hopes to get the squad back on the winning track.

Brian Pritts has returned to guide the fortunes of the Lady Scotties, a job he previously held from 1998-2009.

“The position came about, some people approached me about it,” Pritts said recently. ”I put my name in, not sure what I was going to do and it got to the point where I said ‘I'll run with it and we'll see how it goes.'”

Southmoreland is coming off a tough season with only one win. Injuries and other factors combined to dwindle the roster to numbers so low at times that there was a fear the program would have to be dropped. Two games couldn't even be played since the team did not have enough players to take the court.

Several girls in the school made sure that did not happen by coming out for the team.

“It showed the resolve of the kids and the school itself,” Pritts said. “The kids rallied to help each other out.”

Pritts comes into the season knowing he's in a rebuilding process.

“We're raw,” he said. “It's going to be a transition year for them. They key for us is to see improvement. To every day step in the gym and be better than we were the day before.”

Pritts will be putting a young team on the court, one without a senior.

One of the key returning members of the team is 6-foot junior Mariah Bentz, who filled the role of team captain last season, despite being just a sophomore.

“Mariah is a big, strong body inside,” Pritts said of Bentz. “She's been around and she knows the game. In practices, she tries to motivate the kids and that's a good thing.”

Then again, Pritts said he's going to be leaning on his inside players such as Bentz throughout the season.

“We have some athletic girls and we have some size,” Pritts said. “We're going to have to build around our forwards to take pressure off the guards.”

Some of the people handling those guard spots will be juniors Hannah Porter and Jae Pawlikowsky and sophomore Brooke Cottom.

Junior Kaylee Jo Tissue will be looked upon to play the point guard position, but has battled some back issues.

“She's been the floor general for the team the last couple years,” Pritts said. “I'm hopeful we can get her in the gym and she'll be around to help out her team.”

Freshman Julea Claycomb is expected to be a forward. Pritts looks for juniors Paige Weaver and Alex Kitta to bring athleticism to the squad fresh off their seasons with the soccer team. Sophomores Taylor Conn and Brenna Bailey also are expected to contribute.

Pritts expects tough competition from the other teams in Section 3-AA such as Yough, Derry, Indiana, Mt. Pleasant, Uniontown and Greensburg Salem

“There's some pretty good teams in the section,” Pritts said. “The section is going to be difficult and demanding. We're going to have to prepare to be our best game in and game out.”

Athletic Director Charlie Swink is happy that Pritts is back as the girls court boss.

“He's always been pretty successful with kids,” Swink said. “We need someone who could take that program and build it back up again. He was willing to take that on. He wants an opportunity to build a program. I thought it was a good fit. We'll see what happens. The kids really like him. I think he'll be what we're looking for.”

Pritts has some veterans of the program helping him, including longtime assistant Barry Collins. Former player Emily Morrison will run the junior varsity program. Volunteers Don Lucas and former boys coach Harry Bowser will be involved. Amber Cernuto, another former player, is coaching the middle school team with help from Amanda and Lauren gross.

Going into the season, which begins with the Connellsville Tip-Off Tournament Dec. 7-8, Pritts said the keys will be effort and attitude.

“The first mind set is believing,” Pritts said. “They have to believe in themselves. They have to believe in the coaches and in each other and in the system. I want the message to be clear every day. We're going to believe in ourselves and we're going to go out to win. The kids are responding well to coaching. I think they want to win. It's a matter of getting them to learn how to win. I'm excited. I know it's going to be a bumpy road and there's going to be peaks and valleys. I want effort out of these kids and I want them to bring a good attitude and if they do those two things then we'll see progress that will lead us to being successful.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or