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Southmoreland seniors take diverse roads to basketball court

| Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Senior members of the Southmoreland girls basketball team are (from left) Mariah Bentz, Alex Kitta, Hannah Porter, Kaylee Tissue and Bethany Siebert.
Senior members of the Southmoreland girls basketball team are (from left) Mariah Bentz, Alex Kitta, Hannah Porter, Kaylee Tissue and Bethany Siebert.

Back for his second stint as Southmoreland girls basketball coach, Brian Pritts does not have, as do some coaches, the luxury of five senior four-year starters on his roster. Instead, Pritts, in his second season on the bench, has five seniors, all co-captains, who traveled diverse roads to their senior seasons.

Battling back

After starting as a freshman and sophomore, Mariah Bentz, a 6-foot center/forward, tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the first three minutes of her first game as a junior last year and was lost for the season. Injured in December 2012, she had surgery the next month, followed by rehab.

“Mariah has battled back and is starting again for us this season,” Pritts said. “She is fine physically, 100 percent healthy, and playing with more confidence.”

With a high game of 14 points against Uniontown and a couple of double-doubles this season, Bentz received all-tournament honors in both a tip-off tournament and Christmas tournament, and is averaging six points and eight rebounds per game. In addition to being on the basketball team, she is a member of the school's marching band, serving as the section leader of the front ensemble.

Recalling her injury, Bentz said, “I went for a rebound and, when I landed, my body was facing one way and my left leg was facing another way. I tore my ACL on impact.”

Despite the setback, Bentz “didn't have any second thoughts about playing this season, but I have to admit I had flashbacks going up for a rebound,” she said, laughing. “It was the same type of play but I had a good landing. Last year when I was hurt I remained with the team, watching and learning from the sidelines. I went to all the practices but that's all I could do because of the injury.”

Contributing to her physical issues, Bentz explained, she was diagnosed in 2012 with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue genetic disorder in which she has a collagen deficiency, which causes her joints to hyperextend.

“As I was growing, when I had some pain doctors said I was having growing pains,” she said, recalling an initial diagnosis. “But the pain got worse, and it is a rare condition and may have contributed to my ACL injury. This is something I have to deal with, and I don't let it affect me.”

On the floor, “Mariah understands the game,” Pritts said. “She is strong and has good presence in the paint and is strong around the hoop. She does a nice job positioning for rebounds and has a commanding presence around the basket. When I took over last year, she had already been on the floor for two seasons and I was looking in her direction for leadership, but unfortunately the injury took her off the floor.”

‘A good experience'

When Pritts was named coach before the beginning of last season, Alex Kitta, a four-year letter-winner in soccer, where she plays outside midfield for the Scotties, made the decision to play for him. Kitta, who readily acknowledges that soccer is her primary sport, said she wanted to try a different sport and saw basketball as a means of staying in shape for soccer.

In only her second year playing basketball, Kitta comes off the bench for the Scotties, Pritts said.

“Alex's main asset is her defense,” he observed. “She is a hustler and is always moving like the Energizer bunny. She is always ready to go and comes in when we need her. Playing soccer, she is obviously athletic and her basketball skill set has improved, and her understanding of the game is naturally much better this season.”

Averaging two rebounds per game, Kitta says basketball “has been a good and fun experience. I was nervous at first, but eventually I settled down, and I'm glad I came out last year.”

Three-sport athlete

During Pritts' first stint as coach, when Hannah Porter was in middle school, she served as manager/water girl for Pritts' teams and played as a freshman. However, tendonitis forced her to miss her sophomore season. Returning to action as a junior last year, she posted a season-high 11 points, with nine points representing her season high this year.

“Hannah is very athletic and moves well on the court,” Pritts said. “She is mild-mannered, calm and goes about her business. She does not get flustered. She has made considerable progress and is playing with more confidence this season. Hannah worked hard over the summer to improve her game and her confidence increased when we won our first game and finished second in our tip-off tournament.”

A three-sport athlete, Porter plays forward with the Lady Scotties soccer team and last year ran the first leg on Southmoreland's 3,200-meter relay team, which finished second at the WPIAL championships.

Hard worker

Serving as ball girl/manager for Pritts when she was in middle school, Bethany Siebert watched as her sister, Carrie, played for the Scotties.

“I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I had fun as a ball girl and wanted to play,” Siebert said.

Siebert played at Southmoreland as a freshman and, after not playing as a sophomore, rejoined the team last season. A starting guard/forward, Siebert tossed in 13 points against Mt. Pleasant on Jan. 13.

“Bethany is steady and a very good defender,” Pritts said. “She has worked hard to improve in every aspect of her game.”

Back from a break

As a starting point guard her freshman and sophomore seasons, Kaylee Tissue injured her back heading into her junior season.

“I have scoliosis, and it flares up at certain times, and it was irritating me at the beginning of last year,” she said. “I did not play last year, partly because of the injury and physical therapy rehab but also because I lost interest in basketball and needed a break from the sport.”

But after watching her teammates play several games at the start of this season, her basketball juices started flowing and she rejoined the team during Christmas break.

“I realized I missed playing, missed my teammates and realized if I did not play as a senior, I would regret not playing, so I came out over Christmas,” she said. “Getting back was important for me.”

Plans after college

Not only have Southmoreland's seniors taken different routes to the court this season, but the same applies to their plans following graduation.

Mariah Bentz has committed to play basketball at Valley Forge Christian College near Philadelphia next season. Not long after Bentz began her search for colleges last year, the women's basketball coach at Valley Forge Christian College contacted her and expressed an interest.

“I wasn't necessarily looking for a Christian college, but I went for a visit in September, and I fell in love with the school and campus,” Bentz said. “My plan is to study early childhood education and teach, but I also plan to become a child life specialist to work in children's hospitals to help children cope with whatever affects them.”

Although Alex Kitta is undecided about a college course of study, she plans to play soccer at either Penn State Altoona or Thiel.

Hoping to open her own beauty salon, Bethany Siebert plans to study business at Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport and continue her basketball career.

Passing through construction sites on area highways, Kaylee Tissue makes sure the vehicle in which she is riding abides by all highway rules. No, she is not rubbernecking, but rather admiring the heavy equipment she sees.

“I've already applied to be a heavy equipment operator,” she said. “I see the equipment on the side of the road and this is something I actually want to do. I've applied to a school in New Alexandria for an apprenticeship and I will serve as an apprentice operator four years, after which they will help me find a job.”

For Hannah Porter, her post-Southmoreland plans include attending Westmoreland County Community College and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she will study fashion merchandising.

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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