Young Belle Vernon girls maturing for postseason run

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 11:18 p.m.

Had a few balls bounced differently earlier in the season, the Belle Vernon girls basketball team could have one of the best records in the WPIAL.

They didn't, however, resulting in four close losses.

A group that started as a relatively young team has matured as the season has progressed, and over the past three weeks, everything has been bouncing right for the Leopards (5-2, 11-4), who are suddenly one of the hottest teams in Class AAA.

Fresh off a 56-53 win over Class A power Serra Catholic on Tuesday night, Belle Vernon has won five of its past six games, with its lone loss of the stretch a 55-49 setback to Section 4-AAA front-runner Elizabeth Forward (15-1, 7-0). Serra had won 12 straight prior to its game in Belle Vernon.

“I'm pretty happy with where we're at right now,” Belle Vernon coach Lisa Fairman said. “We've had an exciting season so far and really had some games that could have gone either way. Serra is a really good team and overall a very strong program. I really like playing big nonsection games. It only makes you better.”

Fairman says one key to the hot streak is its balanced attack. While it has a go-to scorer in 6-foot-1 senior forward Jessica Slagus, Belle Vernon has spread the ball around on offense while playing suffocating defense.

Slagus, who is approaching 1,000 points for her career and is averaging 19.7 points, is on the radar of some smaller Division I schools and numerous Division II programs.

“She's just been doing things right all season,” Fairman said. “She's had a double-double in every game this season. That is pretty tremendous to think about. She is just a pure leader for us on the court and a go-to player. Every game she brings it, and she keeps improving.”

Slagus' younger sister, Kaitlyn, a 6-2 sophomore forward, gives the Leopards an intimidating post presence. She is averaging nearly 10 points and has been a “rebounding machine,” according to Fairman.

“Kaitlyn really has come into her own this season,” Fairman said. “She's still very young class-wise but hasn't backed down at all. A few games ago she had 19 rebounds and is becoming a very clutch player for us.”

The Leopards also have solid guard play.

Two underclassmen — junior guard Phaedra Dewitt (5-6) and sophomore Tiernie Singleton (5-9) — have routinely directed the outside attack. Singleton plays both guard and floats in the paint.

“Phaedra has been performing in all aspects,” Fairman said of her point guard, “and Tiernie really has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. They both add so much to the team and do things that don't always necessarily get noticed.”

On its remaining schedule, second-place Belle Vernon will get one more crack to appease its two section losses. The Leopards host West Mifflin (6-9, 5-2) on Monday and travel to Elizabeth Forward on Feb. 7. Belle Vernon dropped the two contests by a combined 15 points.

“I felt pretty comfortable coming into this year,” Fairman said. “We had a pretty good core back from last year. We're going to keep working and playing hard. I really believe in the players, and our younger kids have stepped up. We have a good foundation here. It's going to be real interesting to see what happens in the next couple weeks.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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