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Mt. Pleasant coach blending talented players into winning team

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 11:20 p.m.
Mt. Pleasant guard Elaina Fearer drives by Yough guard JoJo Sterner during their January 3, 2013 contest in Herminie. Mt. Pleasant downed Yough 41-20. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant's Jena Szelong (32) puts up a shot over Greensburg Salem's Jayne Oberdorf (25) and Taylor Mehan (22) during Monday's game. Lori Padilla/For the Daily Courier

After a 2-0 start, things haven't gone exactly as planned for the Mt. Pleasant girls basketball team as it approaches the halfway mark in its season.

Coming off 17-6 and 19-7 records the past two years, this year's Vikings are 6-5 overall and have split their four section games entering Thursday's Section 3-AAA showdown at Uniontown (7-2, 3-1).

While a lot of schools would be happy with a winning record, expectations at Mt. Pleasant are high. The program has become a regular in the Class AAA playoffs.

One issue coach Scott Giacobbi addressed before the season began was being able to mesh a group of talented individuals into a talented team.

Through 11 games, he's starting to see the merger take hold and is confident the results will start to show in the win column.

“Blending the players together was part of the challenge this year,” he said. “We haven't changed a whole lot from a system standpoint. We really just had to build a new chemistry and get players to adapt to new roles. Overall, they've started to come together these past couple games and make great progress.”

The Vikings have struggled offensively at times — scoring just 35.4 points per game in five defeats. Defensively, Giacobbi has been pleased with the Vikings' performance — holding opponents to just over 38 ppg.

“Defensively, we've played strong nearly night in and night out,” he said. “We have been deliberately working really hard on getting some of our offensive explosiveness back. It just hasn't been there this year. We have some gaps we need people to fill in, and overall we just aren't shooting well from the field or the free-throw line.”

The gradual improvement should blend well with Mt. Pleasant's upcoming schedule. Giacobbi said the Vikings intentionally played a daunting nonsection slate to better prepare for section play.

Mt. Pleasant scored a season-opening win against Class AAAA North Hills (4-8) and also defeated Class AA power Jeannette (7-3). The Vikings did fall to Class AAA Hampton (8-3) and dropped a close game to Class AA Greensburg Central Catholic (9-2).

“I think from a nonconference schedule, this was the most aggressive schedule we've ever played in my time here,” Giacobbi said. “We wanted to get the girls matched up against top-level competition with the hope it would set up success in January and February.”

Mt. Pleasant hasn't had a go-to scorer emerge, so Giacobbi said the Vikings will continue to spread the ball around on the offensive end.

Sophomore guard Alexa Szelong has averaged about 10 points, and senior forward Casey Zelenak is averaging slightly over nine.

“Those two have been pretty steady for us,” Giacobbi said. “We've also had some others step in and score some points — (senior forward) Jena Szelong, (junior guard) Jordan Toohey and (junior guard) Elaina Fearer. They're all capable of scoring. We need to shoot better in the second half and really just need to find a rhythm and get players in the right roles.

“This is a talented group. We've had some ups and downs so far, and we've seen some real strong, positive moments. We're making great progress.”

The progress was evident in Monday's loss to Greensburg Salem (7-3).

The Vikings were unable to hold a late lead and lost, 46-43, but Giacobbi felt it was one of his team's best overall performances.

“The hard work is starting to pay off,” he said. “We had a nice lead but couldn't hold on. Even though we lost, there were a lot of positives in that game for us to build on.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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