Trib Cup: Serra Catholic girls beneft from balanced lineup

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 10:22 p.m.

The only blemish on the Serra Catholic girls basketball team's record is a loss in its tip-off tournament against Vincentian, the top-ranked team in Class A.

Since that 67-59 loss Dec. 8, it's been smooth sailing for head coach Bill Cleary and his Eagles.

This week, the Eagles are highlighted as the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature for posting an 8-1 record and an unbeaten 2-0 mark in Section 4-A, which has helped Serra Catholic High School move into fifth-place in the Class A standings.

“At this point in the season, we are doing very well,” Cleary said. “In fact, we look like the veteran team that we are. A lot of these players are letter winners, and they play well and mesh as a unit.”

The Eagles are loaded from top to bottom, starting with senior Jesse Manfredi; juniors Megan Sieg, Leslie Hoye and Nicole Pero; and sophomore Katie Sieg.

Cleary's bench players also have played significant minutes mainly because he said there is no dropoff in production. Seniors Lindsay Muschar, Lauren Czerwien, Kayla Webster and Brooke McCallister and junior Danielle Dindak have allowed Cleary to keep his starters fresh and rested.

“Our entire team — from the starting five to the bench — has been the nucleus of what we've been able to accomplish at the varsity level,” Cleary said. “What makes us so effective is that when I go to the bench, we have no dropoff. It really does stay at the same level.”

Cleary realized the talent he had in a 58-53 win over Greensburg Central Catholic on Dec. 17. The Eagles handled the ball for the final minute and a half to seal an impressive nonsection win.

“I tell you what, we looked so poised as we were winding down the clock and taking what the defense gave us,” Cleary said. “I said ‘there it is,' we handled this thing. We handled the pressure and that situation very well.”

With the team's offensive skill and ability to control the ball, Cleary mostly has emphasized the importance of tough, stingy defense to his players. The Eagles are allowing less than 41 points per game, something Cleary hopes will continue throughout the remainder of the season.

“Everything starts with how well you defend and rebound,” he said. “I want to say that they are all good offensive players, but the thing we concentrate on is defense.

“They play some tough smothering defense, and with the talent these girls have, it makes for an interesting, intense practice that's for sure.”

With section games against Monessen, Clairton, Frazier and Winchester Thurston coming up, Cleary said he realizes there still is a lot of basketball left to play. He's going to rely on the veteran leadership to push the group toward another spot in the WPIAL playoffs.

“Everybody has goals to make the playoffs, win the sections. ... That's our goals right now, but we'll continue to work and get better, and hopefully we can go pretty far,” Cleary said. “Everybody likes to play for championships, so yeah I'd like to play for a championship.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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