ShareThis Page

Young but talented, Penn Hills girls turning things around in Quad-A

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:57 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Hills Progress
Desiree Oliver moves the ball upcourt for Penn Hills in a game against Hempfield. Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.

It didn't take long for sophomore Jade Ely to formulate a goal when she started her career with the Penn Hills girls basketball team.

After watching the Indians finish 3-19 for the second consecutive season — which at least indirectly led to the hiring of head coach John Tate — Ely vowed to help Tate change the culture at Penn Hills.

“I knew that when I came to Penn Hills my freshman year, I didn't want to be a part of — I don't want to say a losing season — a team that doesn't work hard enough and fight.

“So, when we came, we knew that everything needed to be different. We had a whole new coaching staff, and we knew we had to work harder than the teams before us so we could be better and more successful.”

So far, Penn Hills' hard work has paid off to the tune of a 5-5 start, including a 2-1 mark in Section 2-AAAA going into Wednesday's makeup game against Plum.

The Indians are allowing 7.6 fewer points per game and have played close games with No. 3 Bethel Park, the defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion, and No. 5 Fox Chapel.

“We're 5-5 now, but I look at that and say that we've probably lost two or three ball games we had no business losing,” Tate said.

“I start two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors. Some of the things that we do from a mental standpoint are to be expected. I don't like them, but they are to be expected.”

Ely has been Penn Hills' leading scorer at 14.7 points per game. She's also contributing five rebounds, two assists and two steals per game.

Freshman sensation Desiree Oliver, who already has scholarship offers from Duquesne and St. Francis, has lived up to the hype, delivering 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals per night.

Yet like her team, there's been some inconsistency.

“She's 14,” Tate said. “Sometimes we have 14-year-old moments. But if you look at the overall picture, the sky's the limit for her as a player.”

Oliver has been more responsible with the ball than even Tate, her AAU coach, expected; Tate said Oliver averages just four turnovers per game, despite handling the ball 85 to 90 percent of the time.

“I think my teammates can count on me to take care of the ball,” Oliver said. “On defense, I think I lead my team really well.”

Junior forward Marlon Herning has been Penn Hills' energy player while averaging a team-high 9.5 points per game. Freshman Ionie Banner has added scoring (7 ppg) and 5-foot-11 junior Jade Reese size underneath.

Penn Hills has relied plenty on its defense thus far, giving up 45.1 points per game — down from last year's 52.7. The Indians have achieved that by switching from man-to-man to zone to … well, whatever works.

Penn Hills made the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10 last season, but the Indians suffered a 12-point loss to Norwin in the preliminary round. The 68 points allowed were a season-high.


You bet.

“We spend a lot of time at practice focusing on defense,” Ely said. “We try to change our defenses to match other teams' offenses. We take a lot of pride in our defense.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.