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Trib Cup: Aliquippa girls forming their own identity

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 10:48 p.m.

Mark D'Alessandris is trying to build more than just a successful girls basketball team in Aliquippa.

For D'Alessandris, it's more about molding a mentality of deserved success and community pride. Long known for its excellence on the football field, the Quips girls basketball team is forming its own identity on the court.

“We have girls that have the desire and competitive edge and want to be a part of the Aliquippa winning tradition,” he said. “I tell them all the time that you aren't playing for me as a coach, you're playing for the community.”

The Quips are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Aliquippa is in sixth place in the Class A standings.

Aliquippa has mounted a 10-8 overall record and a 6-2 mark in Section 1-A, good for third in the section behind Quigley and Sewickley Academy. The 10 wins this season is the most the program has won since 2010-11 when the Quips went 21-4 and lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

“I'm just trying to get these girls to buy in because they aren't used to being successful to a certain extent,” he said. “We have some people finally watching us, so now they have to understand they have to come out every night.”

D'Alessandris implements an offensive system that starts inside and works its way out. The Quips' punishing defensive style and excellent low-post game has taken its toll on opponents to this point in the year.

Sophomore point guard Alexus Perry has been the catalyst of the Quips' success this season. She's averaging 5.5 assists per game and has already grasped the responsibilities of the position.

“Alexus is really starting to get a feel of how to control the tempo of a basketball game,” D'Alessandris said. “I rely on her to get our plays set up and get everyone on the same page when we start our full-court pressure set up.”

Juniors Destiny Henry and Ciara Clark are the elder statesmen of the group. Clark has been a dominant fixture in the rotation and on the boards, averaging 15 rebounds per game. Henry has elevated her role as one of the team's top defenders and energy players.

Sophomore center Shania Walker and freshman small forward Queenisa Gilbert will be well-known names in the WPIAL in years to come. The talented underclassmen have been defensive forces and are a significant reason why the Quips are only allowing 32 points per game to section opponents.

Senior Ahlia Gipson and freshman Geriah Tyson are the first players called off the bench. Gipson has contributed in her return to the team after a two-year absence and Tyson, according to D'Alessandris, is the best defender he's ever coached.

“A lot of these girls wouldn't be playing right now, especially last season, when they were freshman and sophomores, but our numbers are low so we've asked them to start,” D'Alessandris said. “They are playing varsity and are now starting to get the speed and see they can compete at the level.”

The forced experience is something D'Alessandris said will be valuable in the years to come.

“Sky is the limit for this group,” he said. “We're making strides right now.

“If you asked us in the beginning (of the season), I'd be happy being 4-4, and here we are still with the chance to win our conference.”

Don't expect D'Alessandris to walk away from this season happy with how it's gone so far. His expectations are higher than ever before.

“We still want to win the conference. ... That's our goal,” he said.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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