Elizabeth Forward's depth has led to improvement
Less than a month into the season, the Elizabeth Forward girls basketball team already has doubled its win total from three seasons ago.
Perhaps that's because, as coach Sam Kosanovich said, the Warriors have twice as many starters.
“We have 10 starters,” Kosanovich said matter-of-factly. “We don't have five.”
At 8-1 and carrying a five-game winning streak into a game against Section 4-AAA rival Brownsville on Thursday, Elizabeth Forward has the depth — and talent — to be thinking big. Buoyed by the best scoring defense in WPIAL Class AAA at 32.4 points per game, the Warriors are shooting high.
“To win the WPIAL championship,” point guard Macy Pekala said.
“I really am confident about our season. I think we'll go far.”
Pekala and center/forward Dana Buck serve as senior leaders — four-year varsity players with extensive starting experience.
Buck and Pekala have been the constants in something of a renaissance in Elizabeth Forward basketball. When they were freshmen, the Warriors went 4-15. They improved to 7-16 the following season and qualified for the PIAA tournament last year — Kosanovich's first season as head coach.
“They're two different players on the court. One's a point guard and one a forward/center, but they bring that leadership role,” Kosanovich said. “They fill that coach-on-the-floor role for their teammates. They work hard in practice, and when your senior leaders are working hard in practice and doing what you ask of them, that reflects on everyone else because the other players see that.”
Juniors in the rotation include 6-foot forward Natalie Fekula, 5-8 guard Kylie Owoc, 5-6 guard Alison Pastore and 5-9 forward Andrea Paterra.
“With those four, everyone brings something different to the game,” Kosanovich said. “Some are rebounders, some dribblers, some are defensive players, some people block shots. You mix those four in with the two seniors, that's nice.”
Even nicer when an accomplished group of underclassmen is added as capable starters: 5-6 guard Abigail Sporio, 5-8 guard/forward Olivia Barkley and 5-8 guard Jessica Palady, all sophomores; and 6-0 freshman center Justice Mitchell.
Sophomore forwards Breaonna Brinson and Sarah LaVelle also are more than capable of providing quality minutes.
“I feel like we just work as a team,” Pekala said. “It doesn't matter how many people play.”
So who, exactly, will start for Elizabeth Forward on a given night?
“We just play it game-by-game,” Kosanovich said. “Sometimes we start players because of the situation and the way that we want to defend an opponent or the play offensively, if we want to run, or we see a matchup we like.
“We don't have a set five that goes in, then five out, five in, five out. We just rotate them through as necessary. We don't put an emphasis on starters. We put more of an emphasis on our total team.”
That has worked well for Kosanovich and assistants Mark Ferguson and Krystal Gibbs. The Warriors have not allowed more than 41 points in any of their eight victories this season, and they've scored at least that many in every game.
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.