Serra Catholic boys ready for step up to Class AA competition

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 12:04 a.m.

The Serra Catholic boys basketball team has won eight section titles in a row. Winning the ninth, however, will be a little harder.

The Eagles will play in the vaunted Section 3-AA this season after WPIAL realignment moved them up from Class A.

“It's a great challenge for us,” coach Vince Gibbons said. “It's definitely going to be more difficult. The schedule is much harder ,and the general level of competition has increased. We're going to have to adapt. There's a lot of good, strong teams we're going to see every night.”

Serra Catholic returns just two starters from last year's squad, which finished 16-8 overall and 9-1 in section play. The Eagles were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in an 86-73 loss to Vincentian Academy.

But as is the case with strong programs, Gibbons has several players ready to fill key roles. One player he's particularly excited about is 6-foot-10 sophomore center George Prota.

“I'm looking for Prota to have a huge year,” Gibbons said. “He really put in a good offseason of work, dropped a lot of weight and came in to practice in great shape.”

Prota should pose problems for opposing big men, the Eagles have two dynamite junior guards. Max Kaminsky and Tyler Grebur both return after breakout sophomore seasons. Kaminsky averaged 14 points per game last year. Joe Satira, a 6-2 sophomore, also has the ability to put up big scoring totals.

“It's tough to lose guys,” Gibbons said of his graduation departures, “but this is really a team-oriented group. We'll see what happens. This team isn't as good yet as we were last year, but I'd like to think over the course of the season, we'll get to that level. We have to be prepared and ready to play every night. We're not going to be winning games by 40 points up here (in Class AA).”

It could be viewed as rebuilding year of sorts — the Eagles will dress just two seniors along with five juniors and nine sophomores — Gibbons is confident in his young players.

“Especially for the underclassmen, I've told them this is a two-year plan,” Gibbons said. “This is going to be a new style of basketball for us. I like this team a lot, and we're excited to get started. We have to get ready for the level of play — Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette, Shady Side Academy — they are all very strong programs.”

Serra Catholic, which opens Friday against Fort Cherry, has had a great deal of success playing against larger schools over the years. Last year, for instance, the Eagles had wins against two Class AAA programs — Indiana and Kittanning.

“It's not about the past and the section titles anymore,” Gibbons said. “It's a whole new ballgame, and we're very excited. It's going to take a lot of hard work.”

Serra girls basketball

By most accounts, the 2011-12 Serra Catholic girls basketball season would have been considered a big success.

The Eagles finished with a 14-8 overall record, including a 10-2 mark in the Section 4-A.

This season, coach Bill Cleary hopes to modify one aspect — winning close games. Serra Catholic, a young and relatively inexperienced team a year ago, dropped several tight contests — including a 41-34 loss to Cornell in the first round of the playoffs and other narrow losses to Allderdice and Class AAAA Norwin.

This year, however, experience should be on the Eagles' side. Cleary has an abundance of returning, game-tested players.

“We have a pretty unique group this year,” Cleary said. “We have a lot of experience this season. These girls lost a lot of tough games last year. The inexperience level showed at times. There were some games we probably could have won. We're hoping last year's (experiences) will rectify a lot of things this season.”

Serra Catholic figures to be in the thick of the section race along with perennial powers Monessen, Clairton and Winchester Thurston.

One key to the Eagles' season will be a tremendous amount of depth. Cleary anticipates a rotation of eight or nine capable scorers.

“We have four senior letter winners back,” he said. “This is a deep team this season. We have the depth to have a lot of flexibility and do a lot of different things.”

One player Cleary is counting on to have a big campaign is guard Jessie Manfredi. The 5-6 senior recently committed to play at Chatham.

Manfredi will be joined by 5-8 guard Brooke McCallister, 5-9 forward Lindsay Muschar and 5-6 forward Kayla Webster, all seniors, to form the core of the team. Cleary also expects big seasons from Katie and Megan Sieg.

“The girls came in and worked real hard,” Cleary said. “We had a really good preseason, and I think we have a good shot to be a pretty good team. You never know, but I like this team a lot.”

The Eagles open the season at home Friday vs. Wilkinsburg in a nonsection game.

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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