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Greensburg Salem girls wrap up challenging season

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 9:33 p.m.

Even though the Greensburg Salem girls basketball team made its third consecutive trip to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs under coach Janine Vertacnik, this journey proved to be the toughest.

The Golden Lions started the season without their best player — junior guard Claire Oberdorf, who returned before Christmas from ACL surgery. Vertacnik also missed the services of senior forward Kellie Hutchinson, who had a season-ending knee injury.

The lone healthy senior, Karly Mellinger, who averaged 18.8 points, helped the Golden Lions (9-14, 7-5) stay competitive until Oberdorf, who averaged 13.7 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds, returned to form during the winter break layoff. The team started 4-3 even with the shorthanded roster.

But with the combination of a challenging schedule, Oberdorf's return and the lack of experienced players, the Golden Lions worked to find the same chemistry the program had in prior years.

“I think we met our expectations for what we lost due to graduation from last year's team. We lost three starters and Claire tore her ACL,” Vertacnik said. “It was hard to set high expectations. We thought we were going to finish around 8-4 in section. At the end of the season, we finished 7-5.”

Their goal was nearly met if not for a heart wrenching 49-48 loss at Uniontown on Jan. 23.

The Uniontown loss was the second game of a four-game losing streak in late January. The Golden Lions went 2-7 down the stretch, including a 54-38 loss to Kittanning in the WPIAL Class AAA preliminary round Feb. 15.

“We didn't shoot the ball well. When you don't shoot the ball well it puts more pressure on defense. We gave up more points on the defense than we are use to,” Vertacnik said.

Vertacnik is hopeful the tough schedule and the challenges they faced will pay off in the long run for the players. Greensburg Salem faced WPIAL semifinalists Blackhawk, Hempfield, Greensburg Central Catholic and Penn-Trafford this season.

“It was an up and down season for us as a coaching staff. As a team, we fought and clawed. Pretty much everyone on our schedule outside of Laurel Highlands and some of those in our section made the playoffs,” Vertacnik said. “We didn't play a pansy schedule.”

In more than 20 seasons of coaching, Vertacnik is still learning how to become a better coach in trying times like the Golden Lions experienced this past season.

“Patience is a virtue. Also, you have to make sure you nurture the kids. At times, I think I overwhelmed them with things. I was trying to do some things,” Vertacnik said. “But, I had to remind myself I have to go back to basics. No matter what you teach them, it boils down to foul shots and layups.”

Even though the season just came to a close, Vertacnik and the Golden Lions can't wait to get back out on the court and get the sour taste out of their mouths after getting their first year of extended varsity experience.

“Over the summer it's on the girls to go out and shoot. We can teach them boxing out and rebounding but shooting is on their own. All positions will be open,” Vertacnik said. “We will have nine lettermen hopefully returning next season. They will have to battle for spots since they're so close. The lineup could change every night until we see someone step up and put some positive games together.”

Andrew John is a freelance writer.

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