Another tall task for Greyhounds
If Monessen basketball coach Joe Salvino were rankled about how charter schools like Lincoln Park attract student athletes, one can only wonder his first sentiments about the Greyhounds' opponent in the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs.
Monessen (20-6) meets Erie First Christian Academy (15-9) at 7:30 p.m. Friday Chartiers Valley.
Erie First, the second place team from District 10, is not a boarding school, but it has a boarding house nearby for foreign students.
The school has students from 16 countries, and the Eagles have players from five foreign countries on their roster
Three of the team's top six players are from Nigeria, including leading scorer Valentine Sangoyami, a 6-11 senior who averages 12.8 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
“We have a pretty good mix,” said Erie First coach Phil Gernovich, who once lived in Monongahela.
“About 12 or 15 years ago, we lived there for a while,” said Gernovich, who once worked for 84 Lumber and worked for a Christian school in Library.
Erie First is in its second year in District 10 and played mostly an independent schedule this season that included mainly teams from higher classifications.
The Eagles lost twice to District 10 champion Cochranton, but own two victories over Kennedy Catholic.
Erie First and Monessen have two common opponents, Westinghouse and Eden Christian.
Monessen beat Eden in the WPIAL playoffs, 78-54, and Erie First beat Eden, 77-58.
The Greyhounds beat Westinghouse, 82-55, and the Eagles defeated the City League school, 56-38.
Sangoyami isn't the only big player in Erie First's lineup. He is joined by 6-6 Augustine Mathias (8.6 ppg, 6.7 rebounds) and 6-3 Logan Kallay (8.5 ppg).
Rounding out the lineup for the Eagles are 5-9 Luke Hess (9.5 ppg) and 6-0 Romeo Kabongo (6.9 ppg).
The top reserves are 6-1 Hunter Kallay (6.1 ppg), who transferred from General McLane during the season, and 6-3 Soalo Wariboko (5.3 ppg).
“We have a good balance as far as scoring is concerned,” said Gernovich.
Salvino said he saw the tape of Erie First's 69-54 loss to Cochranton in the District 10 title game and said his opponent is not similar to Lincoln Park, which blitzed Monessen in the WPIAL title game.
“They don't look as quick and they don't seem to push the ball,” Salvino said. “When (Sangoyami) has the ball, he's not bad. He has some nice moves.
“Our defense will have to pressure the ball and see if their guards can handle it. We also have to get the ball up and down the court.”
Salvino said the key for the Greyhounds against anybody they play this time of the year is to do what they normally do.
“We have to do what we are best at, using our speed and quickness with pressure defense,” he said. “Any team that gets us into a half court game is to their advantage, because we are not a very tall team.”
Gernovich said the key for his team will be handling Monessen's pressure.
“We have to play with consistency and we have to handle the pressure that I assume they will bring,” he said.
The Greyhounds will be bolstered by the return of 6-2 senior Tyler Yuille, who missed the championship game with an illness, and 6-0 sophomore Lavelle Rush, who sat out the last three games of the playoffs.
“It's good to have everyone back,” Salvino said. “If anything, it makes our bench that much stronger.”
PLAYOFF TIDBITS: Before Erie First lost in the district title game, the team had won seven straight games ... Erie First averages 57.5 ppg and gives up an average of 51.2. Monessen averages 72.2 ppg and gives up an average of 56.8 ... Erie First's “United Nations” includes a player from Korea, China, Canada and Ukraine, along with the trio from Nigeria ... The first game of the doubleheader at Chartiers Valley will be a girls' AA contest featuring Seton-La Salle against Blairsville.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.