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Elizabeth Forward will rely on Natalie Fekula (21) and Kylie Owoc (22) to bring the Warriors back to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. Ronald Vezzani Jr.
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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 1:46 a.m.
 

The union of Sam Kosanovich and the Elizabeth Forward girls basketball team was no shotgun wedding.

More like a match made in heaven.

Newlywed bliss often fades heading into Year Two — but not with the Warriors, who are confident they can make even more strides after an 11-win improvement under Kosanovich from the season prior to his arrival.

“I thought things were pretty positive last season considering it's an uncomfortable situation with a new coach and a new team adjusting to each other,” Kosanovich said. “It's like your first year of marriage trying to get used to your spouse. When you make that transition, it's nice, and you feel much better making that transition into the second year.”

The comfort level has increased between Kosanovich and his players, and confidence is high with four starters back from last season's 18-6 team that advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals and qualified for the PIAA tournament.

Elizabeth Forward has the capability of going 10-12 deep this season, including seven or eight who played significant minutes last season.

Center/forward Dana Buck is the Warriors' leading returning scorer, and she will share the senior leadership duties with guard Macy Pekala.

A pair of sophomore guards who showed great potential last season are Olivia Barkley and Abigail Sporio.

Four juniors — 6-foot forward Natalie Fekula, 5-8 guard Kylie Owoc, 5-6 guard Alison Pastore and 5-10 center Andrea Paterra — all figure prominently in the Warriors' plans.

“The thing now is we want to get to an even higher level,” Kosanovich said. “To do that, we need to be more consistent.

“I'm happy for what happened that first year, but also expect more this year.”

Warriors' boys adjust to new coach

Just like a small child who hasn't eaten his vegetables, players on the Elizabeth Forward boys basketball team had to wait to get their serving of Puddin.

The Warriors have a new coach this season in Gerald “Puddin” Grayson, the longtime coach of the McKeesport girls and a child sports legend for the McKeesport Little Tigers five decades ago.

But Grayson wasn't hired by Elizabeth Forward until June. Not only did that accelerate — and abbreviate — the acclimation process for the players and their new coach, it also meant the Warriors weren't able to put a summer league team together.

Come fall, many of the EF basketball players also compete on the school's football team. That meant the Warriors missed out on fall league play, too.

“So the first time we got the group of 10 players together (for an organized game) was Saturday,” Grayson said earlier this week. “That was an exciting day — but it's really difficult for us, to be honest with you.

“We did OK in our scrimmage (against Connellsville Saturday), but that was the first time everyone played together, so I really don't know much about our team. Ask me (on opening night, Dec. 7), I'll have a better idea.”

Elizabeth Forward finished last season with a 13-11 record and won a preliminary round WPIAL playoff game after slipping into the postseason — but no starters returned, Grayson said.

But there's some talent. Guards Cody Palady, Jacob Como and Cary Lampkin and forward James Benedict are seniors who are among the Warriors' most experienced returnees. But it's the junior class that might hold the key to the team's success.

Jaquan Davidson is an athletic and versatile transfer from McKeesport, and 5-foot-6 point guard Jalen French is another transfer who has attended McKeesport in the past. Forwards Austin Matta (6-2) and Andrew Jacobs (6-6) and guard Bernie Bernakowski (5-11) are other juniors who figure to stand out.

“We plan on playing at least 11 or 12 guys,” Grayson said. “We're going to play constant pressure and a lot of guys will get a chance to play. It's a fun brand of basketball, up and down the court, having fun.”

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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