Connellsville girls look for improvement under new coach
When Shawna Little played basketball at Connellsville, the Falcons made it to the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals during her senior year in 2001. A little more than a decade later, Little has returned to Connellsville, this time as the team's coach, and she wants the current group of players to experience some of the same thrills she experienced when the Falcons were flying high.
“Being back is a huge deal for me,” Little said. “I know what it's like to be successful at Connellsville, and I want them to experience that and get to a point where we walk into a gym and know we have a chance to win.”
But Little, who is replacing former coach Kevin Bell, certainly has a tall order in front of her. The Falcons are coming off a winless season, which was a follow-up to a four-win campaign. Still, Little sees plenty of positives surrounding this year's team.
“I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised,” Little said. “When you come in with an 0-22 record, there is nowhere to go but up, and we are absolutely ready to compete.”
According to Little, the team still is developing basketball awareness, which will come with experience. However, she is impressed with the team's quickness, which should be a big help defensively.
“We're quick, and we'll get offense from our defense,” Little said. “That will be a big strength. We're going to press, press, press.”
Offense, on the other hand, has been a big problem for the Falcons.
“When you are only scoring 26 points per game, you won't win many games,” Little said. “We are trying to get good shots, rather than just settle for shots.”
The Falcons return their top two scorers from last season in junior guard Maria Merendino and sophomore guard/forward Saiah Mickens. Merendino led the team with 212 points last season.
Merendino also expects strong defense to transition into points at the other end.
“I think we'll score a lot of points off our defense, because we are quick,” Merendino said. “I feel like we have a lot more confidence. We haven't done the greatest (in the past), but we're working together and we're clicking.”
In addition to Merendino and Mickens, the Falcons' lineup should be bolstered by a pair of transfers: junior forward Marissa Matesic and junior guard/forward Sarah Fiano.
Matesic is a transfer from Penn-Trafford, and Fiano has returned to Connellsville after spending one year at Greensburg Central Catholic. Sophomore guard Alyssa Orndorff as well as junior guard Ashton Grimm and junior forward Brittany Craig also are expected to be strong contributors.
Senior guard Jess Lohr, junior guards Emma Bell and Marissa Keffer and sophomore forward Ashley Pritts will play key roles.
The path to success likely won't be a short one, but Little is committed and is optimistic that the team will work hard to reach its goals.
“We obviously want to win, and we are going to win games, but the number is totally up to them based on how hard they are going to work,” Little said. “If we are a better team at the end of the year, then that's success.”
Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3534.