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Can Rochester end Monessen jinx?

| Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Mariah Ward, shown last year playing for Monessen,  is the leading scorer this season for Westmoreland County Community College.
Mariah Ward, shown last year playing for Monessen, is the leading scorer this season for Westmoreland County Community College.

Jen Milne knows a little about snapping losing streaks.

After all, when she was a player at Rochester back in the 1990s, she was on a team that snapped the nation's longest losing streak at that time.

Now, in her 13th year as head coach at her alma mater, her Rams (11-11) face a bit of a losing streak going into Wednesday's WPIAL Class A first round playoff game against Monessen (9-12) 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Woodland Hills.

Milne has coached three playoff games against the Lady Greyhounds and is still looking for her first win.

“The first time was against the team they had with Charel Allen and that was a tremendous team,” Milne recalled. “The second time, I think, was in 2006 and they had a big girl inside (Perrial Pearson) who was pretty good. And then there was last year.”

A year ago, Rochester dropped a tough 60-52 first round decision to Monessen.

‘We haven't had much luck against them,” Milne said.

Rochester returns three starters from last year's game, including seniors Kayla Besong and Jamie Simon and sophomore Demi McFrazier.

Monessen, meanwhile, has two starters back in Mariah Ward and Chelsea Szakal, although Szakal was hampered with a knee injury at the time.

“Obviously, Ward is their best player and she seems to do most of their scoring,” Milne said. “(Szakal) seems like a pretty good player, too. But I am worried about the other girls in their lineup because on tape they look like they can score when they have to.”

Rochester is a low-scoring team, averaging just over 40 points per game. Her leading scorer is McFrazier, who averages just over 10 points while Besong and Simon also score near double figures.

“Defense is definitely going to be the key for us,” Milne said. “Because since we only score 40 points a game, we obviously have to hold the other team down. We have to play good defense against Monessen.”

Milne noted that one of her concerns going in is the fact that Monessen has been on a bit of a roll as of late.

The Lady Greyhounds had won five straight games before dropping their regular season finale to Class AAA Thomas Jefferson.

“Every coach wants to see their team playing well this time of year and it looks like they are playing their best basketball at this point,” Milne said of the Lady Greyhounds.

How about her team?

“Well, we are awfully young with almost half our roster being freshmen,” she said. “So, we've been up and down.

“We won our last two games to get into the playoffs, but we lost the two games before that. So, you really never know with us.”

The Rams use a three-guard offense and their two biggest players are both 5-8 (McFrazier and Stephanie Waxler).

Milne says that her team switches up defenses between man-to-man and zone depending on the opposition.

Rochester has qualified for the playoffs in all 13 of Milne's seasons.

“It's always the goal to get into the playoffs and then see what we can do from there,” she said.

One thing the Rams haven't been able to do once they get there is beat Monessen.

PRE-GAME NOTES: The winner of Wednesday's game will play the winner of second-seeded Serra (20-2) and Jefferson-Morgan (10-13) on Saturday ... Ward leads Monessen in scoring with an average of 18.6 ppg. ... The second game at Woodland Hills is a AA boys game featuring Brentwood against Shady Side Academy.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or

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