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Returning senior leaders guide Monessen girls into season

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 10:40 p.m.
Monessen girl's head basketball coach Gina Naccarato instructs forward Chelsea Szakal during drills at practice on November 27, 2012 in Monessen. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Monessen guard Mariah Ward runs drills during practice on November 27, 2012 in Monessen. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
North Catholic's Lauren Wolosik. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pine Creek
Sophomore center Brenna Wise and the Vincentian girls won the WPIAL Class A title last year. Louis Raggiunti | Tribune-Review

No longer is she Gina Naccarato, a player. Pennsylvania's second-leading all-time scorer in high school girls basketball has been transformed into a mentor.

Monessen has been the site of both scenarios.

As she enters her fourth season as coach of the Greyhounds, Naccarato sees a lot of things she saw as a player but views them differently as a coach.

“Being a teacher and a coach, I realize that some kids mature faster than others,” she said. “Sometimes, it takes until their senior year to put it together.”

She is hoping the team again can excel under senior leadership, just as it did last year.

“Our goal is to win the section and qualify for the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs,” Naccarato said.

High school players arrive and depart each year — yes, Naccarato once was one of them — yet the game remains the same. Success comes from practicing hard and playing hard.

It is, after all, the stuff of which Naccarato is made.

“We have a lot of girls who've gotten a little bit of playing time, but they've got to step it up and realize that it is their turn now,” said Naccarato, whose 3,364 points at Monessen from 1992-96 rank second in the state and first in the WPIAL.

Just two starters return from Monessen's 20-4 team that reached the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals in 2011-12, but seniors Mariah Ward (20.9 ppg) and Chelsea Szakal (13.1 ppg) are impact players.

They must help the rest of the roster mesh.

“We lost four seniors,” Naccarato said. “These new kids appear to have gotten the message, though. Practices have been going well, but it's going to take time.”

If Monessen is to make its 24th consecutive trip to the WPIAL playoffs, a supporting cast that includes 2012 part-time starter Monet Wade must step up.

The 5-foot-9 junior is expected to be joined by 5-6 junior Eden Holland and 5-4 senior Asyaa Davis in the Greyhounds' lineup alongside the 5-7 Ward and the 5-8 Szakal, who is hoping to be ready for the season after injuring her knee last year.

Naccarato said the latter two are unquestioned leaders.

“They have to be the leaders on the floor, especially when you don't have a lot of experience at that level,” she said.

Naccarato's fierce competitive nature could ignite her players' passion for winning. And it better, she said, because perennial powers Vincentian Academy and North Catholic are looming once again.

“They're hard to beat,” Naccarato said. “They've been in the WPIAL championship game for about as long as I've been a coach.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-380-5617.

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