Trib Cup: Serra Catholic girls preparred for another deep playoff run

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 10:45 p.m.

The Serra Catholic girls basketball team has shown it has the talent and experience needed to return to the WPIAL championship this season.

Last season, the Eagles fell to Vincentian Academy in the WPIAL finals and eventually lost in the PIAA quarterfinals. Coach Bill Cleary said there won't be any surprises as the Eagles embark on another playoff run.

“(The experience) helps in the fact that you've been there before and you faced certain situations that arise in those games,” he said. “We can be a little more calm and ready to go when those situations present themselves.”

This week, the Serra girls basketball team is highlighted as the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team for posting an 18-2 record overall and an unbeaten 9-0 record in Section 4-A. Serra Catholic is currently in fifth place in the Class A standings.

Despite losing the team's leader, Jess Manfredi (Chatham), to graduation, the Eagles have not felt any sting from her absence. In fact, Cleary said his five seniors have filled the void admirably.

“Jess was a big loss because of the leadership she provided and just being the glue for the team,” he said. “These five seniors share those responsibilities well.”

Cleary's experienced starting five includes seniors Megan Sieg, Nicole Pero, Danielle Dindak and Leslie Hoye. Junior Katie Sieg is a three-year starter who has the experience of someone on the verge of graduation.

Cleary said the five have played together long enough to understand each other's strengths and what each player's role is in the offense.

“The instincts that they have playing with each other is great,” Cleary said. “They know where they are on the court and make the correct pass at the correct time.

“When they are clicking it is pretty good to watch.”

Off the bench, Cleary sends in senior Lauren Czerwien, sophomore Felicia Moon and freshman Aaliyah Coleman. Each player brings a skill set and intensity just as valuable as those in the starting five.

“There's no dropoff when we go to the bench,” he said. “I can freely substitute as we see fit and there's no loss in the level of play.

“In some areas when they bring their talents, they may elevate us a bit.”

The Eagles, who lost to Vincentian in the second game of the year and to Class AAA Belle Vernon, play an intense defensive-minded brand of basketball that to this point their opposition hasn't been able to match. Cleary said when opponents enter their gym, they have to be prepared for a physical style that will not relent.

A return to A.J. Palumbo Center for the WPIAL finals is a simple formula, Cleary said. He expects the Eagles to play to the level they've become accustomed to throughout the year and continue to polish the key ingredients implemented in the preseason.

“Always concentrate on the defensive end and always rebound,” Cleary said. “Those two things will carry you every night.”

Mentally, the Eagles have the experience of postseason play emblazoned in their minds. Cleary said the intense focus he's seen throughout this year will not be an issue.

“We can't let anything get in your way in terms of preparation,” he said. “You just have to put anything that's negative aside and think that you'll always go with the expectation that you'll win.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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