West Mifflin girls to be without top player
West Mifflin coach Rob Yeschenko has been on the job for two years, but he has learned quite a bit about losing his team's top player right before the start of the season.
Junior Ciara Patterson, the reigning Daily News Girls Basketball Player of the Year and one of the top guards in the WPIAL, opted not to play for the Titans this season because of what Yeschenko called medical reasons. No further explanation of her condition was forthcoming, and it is expected she will be out for the season.
In 2011-12, Patterson was third in Class AAA in scoring (21.1 ppg) and helped West Mifflin tie Elizabeth Forward for second in Section 4 and win a preliminary-round playoff game against Kittanning before the team lost to Blackhawk.
“It's going to be difficult to replace her, but that's why basketball is a team sport,” Yeschenko said. “I think that our team is starting to come together and really worked well together in the offseason, and we'll just have to be good at the little things on the court such as rebounding and being strong with the ball.”
Prior to last season, the team's best returning player, Jayla Leftwich, transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, which forced Patterson to grow up much faster than expected. Instead of falling under the pressure, she thrived and became one of the best players in the classification.
“With Ciara, she was able to improvise while the play was going on and created a lot of attention for herself, which allowed a lot of our girls to be open,” Yeschenko said.
“Now, we have more of a structured offense because what we worked on in transition in unstructured situations with her, it was more like controlled chaos. But now we have a more structured offense, and we're deep enough with our guards that you shouldn't see much difference.”
West Mifflin boys show potential
The Titan boys shake off an appearance in the WPIAL Class AAA football championship game and get their basketball legs under them in less than two weeks for the start of the season Friday against Altoona in the Peters Township Tournament. The West Mifflin football team fell to West Allegheny on Nov. 23 at Heinz Field.
“We have a long way to go, but I think we have some potential,” Titans coach Lance Maha said. “We have a couple of guys that are in the rotation that have only had a week of practice under their belt, but we're probably a little further along than we were last year because we have three starters back.”
Senior point guard Derek Fulmore, junior guard Ryan Maha and senior forward Cye Murphy are the three returning starters from a 2011-12 squad that lost its first four games but rebounded to finish tied for second place with Thomas Jefferson in Section 4.
The Titans (13-9 in 2011-12), who had a fresh starting five to open last season, rebounded from that opening to win 10 of their final 12 games and twice nearly handed section champion Keystone Oaks its only section loss of the year.
Because of the WPIAL's biennial realignment, Keystone Oaks will not be in the section this year, but that does not mean the team will have smooth sailing to its first title since 2010-11.
The players will be reminded how close they came to winning a share of the section and will recall the 57-42 loss to Mars in the first round of the playoffs.
“We'll make reference to last year's team and other teams just as far as our attention to details so that they will pay attention to what we're trying to do so we can improve,” Coach Maha said. “Last year's team was willing to learn, and that's why they improved, and hopefully, this year's team will do the same thing.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-664-9161, ext. 1977.