Kittanning girls up ante to suit experience
Kittanning girls basketball coach Janelle Kotyk views full-court pressure and up-tempo play as parts of her team's identity.
The Wildcats strayed from that style a season ago to accommodate an inexperienced group that included just one returning starter and no seniors.
With every one of its starters now a season older and wiser, Kittanning (9-14, 5-5 in Section 1-AAA last winter) is ready to return to fast-paced basketball and increase its win total, Kotyk believes.
“We're working toward it, but we're still in the process of getting into that type of physical shape,” the coach said. “We're not there yet.
“We're working in multiple defenses, and they're still getting the hang of them. Last year, we maybe ran one or two. So we're throwing a lot more at them because of their experience playing together. We're going to see what suits them best and then stick with what works when it's time.”
Junior point guard Emily Knepshield will again coordinate Kittanning's run-and-gun attack. A three-year starter, she led the team in scoring with 14.3 points per game as a sophomore. She also distributed 106 assists and grabbed 139 rebounds.
“It's a different game that we're playing,” Knepshield said when asked how the current up-tempo style compared to what Kittanning did in 2010-11, when it won a section title. “But we're still doing well at it.”
Senior guard Taylor Patterson, a 3-point shooting specialist, returns after averaging 8.2 points per game; she made 50 from behind the arc as a junior.
Senior forward Frankie Religa will continue to operate in and around the paint. She led the team in rebounds with 174 and ranked second in points (8.9 per game).
“We run the ball really well now,” Religa said. “Last year, we weren't as fast, but we've been practicing running and pushing the ball, and we've really improved on that.”
Said Patterson: “Honestly, we (run) more than we do a set offense. It works better for us.”
At 5-foot-8, seniors Cassie Merryman and Kirsten Wolfe are the team's tallest starters. Merryman averaged 5 points and grabbed 99 rebounds a season ago, while Wolfe scored 5.3 and pulled in 100 boards.
When her primary ball-handlers need a break, Kotyk said she might look to sophomores Alaina Thomas and Tiffany Montgomery and freshman Taylar Wolfe. Kotyk emphasized that whoever steps on the court for Kittanning must be ready to run the floor. She's not eager to watch her team's lack of height become a disadvantage in half-court sets.
“Our strength isn't going to be our size, so we're going to need to find ways to really block out and get back and play five-on-five,” Kotyk said.
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.