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Plum, Gateway girls hoops teams make most of summer time on court

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 3:12 p.m.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader
Plum rising sophomore Maria Lawhorne takes the ball to the hoop during an open-gym workout on June 12, 2014.
Michael Love | The Times Express
Gateway rising senior Morgan Hainsey looks for room to drive the ball during a league game at McKeesport on June 12, 2014.

The 2013-14 high school basketball season for the Plum and Gateway girls squads ended four months ago, and preseason practices for the 2014-15 campaign don't start for five months, but the start of summer is a busy time for the Mustangs and Gators with workouts and league games.

The foundation of the upcoming season begins to take shape now.

Plum and Gateway both qualified for the WPIAL playoffs this past season, and the returning players on each squad are working to develop a plan they hope will lead to another playoff trip this upcoming season.

The Mustangs enter the summer with a new coach, as former Plum varsity boys assistant Eric Gillis was hired two weeks ago after a two-month search to find the replacement for Bernie Pucka, who stepped down after seven seasons.

Gillis likes what he sees from the mixture of new and returning players.

The returning players include lettermen in rising senior Courtney Zezza and rising juniors Mandy Majocha and Ashley Amato.

“We're starting with the basics and taking it one day at a time as we get them up to speed with the system,” Gillis said.

“We haven't put too much in yet, but we're looking at what the players have with their athleticism.”

Gillis said he likes the enthusiasm that greeted him when he first met with the players and the desire shown during the first several workouts.

“They want to be good and want to put the time in. Hopefully, that will continue throughout the summer,” he said.

Gillis said he hopes to gather a few teams for some scrimmage games one or two nights a week in July. He said that with the late hiring, Plum was not able to get involved with any leagues.

“We want to see what their skill level is and where they fit in with game situations,” he said.

The players, senior Alyssa Zezza said, are glad to have a head coach in place as they start to put everything together.

“It was a little nerve wracking not knowing who the coach was going to be and how well he would work with us,” she said. “We just wanted it to be a good situation. We've been ready to work.”

Gateway only lost one player to graduation who played on varsity last season — Jada Epps — and team members said there has been a strong level of enthusiasm and dedication throughout the past couple of weeks in open gyms and through play in a league at McKeesport.

“I feel we're coming together well,” rising senior Morgan Hainsey said.

“We have a lot coming back, and we've played together a lot. Open gyms and games have been very productive. We've seen a lot of improvement since the end of the season in February.”

The playoffs for the McKeesport league start this week.

“We have pretty high expectations heading into next season, and we want to improve and get past the first round of the playoffs,” rising senior London Wade said.

“This is when it all starts. We love the competition in these league games whether we win or lose. We want to see progress.”

Assistant coach Dana Stewart� can see that dedication to get better.

“They want to know when they can get together for workouts and play games,” she said. “The McKeesport league is full of good competition. We get to see what other teams have and what we have. It makes you excited for the season.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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