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Hempfield girls squad's sole senior relishes leadership role

| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Hempfield's Monica Burns (13) gathers her team together before their game against Penn-Trafford on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 at Penn-Trafford High School. Penn-Trafford won, 63-62 at the buzzer.

As the lone senior on the Hempfield girls basketball team, Monica Burns has embraced her role as the Spartans' unquestioned leader.

Adopting a leadership mentality, Burns has taken the approach of that of a big sister with her younger teammates.

“This year being the only senior, it's teaching me a lot of responsibility and leadership,” Burns said. “It makes me look at my teammates like if they're my own sisters. My little sister (freshman Michele Burns) is on the team, but I look at all of them as family.

“It definitely keeps me motivated as much as it is a responsibility because I don't want to let any of my teammates down, and I know I set a good example as being the leader.”

Burns and the Spartans entered the week 8-5 overall and 4-2 in WPIAL Section 1-AAAA.

She also is among the WPIAL leaders in scoring at 22.4 points per game.

But what's most impressive about her stat line is that she has been able to score despite opponents' numerous attempts to defend her with box-and-one defenses and double teams, among other things.

“Obviously, Monica is the big player on our team that everyone is trying to shut down the most,” Hempfield coach Aaron Epps said. “Monica's done a great job knowing she doesn't have to do it all. She's grown so much as a basketball player.

“She's been very good with the young kids. ... Her work ethic is just unmatched on our team. A lot of the other girls follow her.”

Primarily a point guard, Burns is committed to play at IUP next season. She has challenged herself to play better defense, not just to help her team this season but also to prepare for the next level.

“I know my main job on this team is to be a scorer ... but I really want to improve on my defense because I know I'm supposed to have a defense-first mentality, and I really want to try and change that about my game and make myself better,” she said.

Sitting in third place in a competitive Section 1, the Spartans are still in contention for the section title despite a 63-62 loss to section leader Penn-Trafford on Jan. 4.

Burns and her Hempfield teammates responded well from that narrow loss with two resounding section wins over Albert Gallatin and Kiski Area, something the Spartans put an emphasis on.

“It's really important to come back from a loss like that because that shows what kind of team we are and the hard work we put in,” Burns said. “Even though it was a bad loss, it shows that we're a team that can bounce back no matter what.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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