Jeannette grads find success in college athletic careers

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Ciara Gregory's first college basketball season is behind her, but so much more lies ahead.

Gregory, a Jeannette High School graduate, is a reserve guard for the NCAA Division I University of North Carolina-Charlotte squad, which qualified for the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) this season.

The 49ers fell to St. Bonaventure 81-62 in the first round of the WNIT on Friday, ending their season.

Gregory played eight minutes in the game, scoring two points.

While the loss was disappointing for Gregory and her teammates, the fact the team was able to make it to the post-season, keeping a 12-year streak alive for Charlotte, was a major accomplishment.

And for Gregory individually, this season was one that saw substantial growth and development, all of which means she's likely to see an even bigger role next season and beyond.

“I definitely think I got a lot better this year,” she said. “I got better on defense. When I came into school, I wasn't the best defender, and I still have to get a lot better, but I think I improved.”

That quality — recognizing where she needs to improve and accepting appropriate instruction to do so — is one of her strongest assets, said Charlotte assistant coach Karen Lange.

“She was able to adjust to the college level and the pace of everything, the defensive side of it,” said the coach. “You just saw that progression throughout the year, and you could see her get more and more comfortable in her role.”

The 5-foot-7 guard played in 27 of the team's 31 games and averaged eight minutes per contest. She scored 92 points, a 3.4 per game average, and grabbed 29 rebounds.

She also quickly showed she still has that knack for sinking three-pointers that Jeannette fans know well. Despite being a backup, Gregory was second on the team with 22 three-pointers.

“One of the reasons we recruited her was her ability to shoot the basketball and score points at a quick rate,” said Lange.

“One thing great about Ciara, no matter how many minutes she was playing, she was always ready. She was never shy about taking a shot, and a lot of those threes she made were when we really needed them for an energy lift.”

Next season, Gregory's role on the team is likely to increase, said Lange.

“There's a natural process of growth from your freshman year to your sophomore year … she's grown in a lot of ways, and we want to see her continue to grow,” said Lange.

“She's not just a shooter anymore. She has a lot more athleticism than you think. That will come out more and more in her game. Our team will change next year, and she has a chance (for significant minutes).”

DePalma's season ends at nationals

Jeannette grad Michael DePalma did not reach his goal of winning a national championship, but the local product eclipsed the expectations many had for him this season.

DePalma, a redshirt sophomore on the Kent State wrestling team, competed in the 149-pound weight class at the Division I national championship tournament last weekend in Oklahoma City, going 2-2 at the event.

“They way I prepared, I almost downplayed it mentally because I didn't want to fall into the pressure of it,” he said.

“I viewed it as just another tournament. That was my mentality going in .. and I feel I was successful in that.”

DePalma had a tough first match, falling to Michigan's Eric Grajales in 3:32.

“That kid was a pretty good wrestler,” he said. “I didn't stick to my game plan and it cost me.”

However, DePalma then took his first two consolation matches, downing Lock Haven's Macaulay Maldarelli 9-5 and Virginia's Augustus Sako 5-2.

The match against Sako was especially gratifying for DePalma, who fell to that same opponent 10-1 in a match against him earlier this season.

His tournament and season then ended when he fell to Clarion's Justin Arthur in 4:11; DePalma finished the season with a 26-20 record. Team-wise, Kent State finished 29th at the event.

The local product said the experience he gained in his first trip to the national tournament will help him next year and beyond.

“It will definitely help,” he said. “I know what to expect and I plan to be back.”

Weightman continues to produce

In Division I baseball action, St. Bonaventure dropped three games at Virginia Commonwealth over the weekend, but Jeannette grad Brian Weightman continued his impressive play.

The senior started all three games in left field, stole a base and had two hits and three walks in 13 plate appearances .

Weightman has a .262 batting average and a .736 OPS thus far.

The Bonnies are scheduled to play three games against St. Joseph in Philadelphia this weekend.

Brian Knavish is a contributing writer.

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