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Basketball

Practice habits preparing Chartiers-Houston girls for postseason

| Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, 11:42 p.m.

Practices for the Chartiers-Houston girls basketball team this season are more competitive than most games.

The Buccaneers have won contests by an average of 30 points and have had just one single-digit victory, with both of their two losses to larger schools, which has meant rarely facing tests in live-game settings. Both of their losses, to Trinity and Beaver, came by double digits.

Such dominance is a noticeable jump for a program that's 2014 season ended one win short of claiming a WPIAL playoff spot.

Since then the team has advanced to the state tournament the past two years, making a PIAA quarterfinal run in 2015. And after losing just three players, one starter, to graduation and regaining junior forward Alexa Williamson from an ACL tear, Chartiers-Houston (17-2, 11-0) is closing in on its first section title in 16 years in dominant fashion with sights set on another lengthy postseason stay.

Coach Laura Montecalvo and her assistant have had to figure out how to ready a team for the single elimination playoff format and a drastic step up in competition Chartiers-Houston is sure to face in a couple weeks.

“Even though we crush teams, we still have to work on things we don't do well in big games,” Williamson said.

Those areas for improvement include ball management and execution in close, late-game situations she said.

Practice helps.

Montecalvo grew up regularly attending Washington High school football practices, serving as manager and watching her dad, Guy, the head coach, up through her college years. She applies much of what she observed him doing in her current job.

Much of practice is spent with the team split up into groups by their positions oftentimes competing against each other. Montecalvo, who played at Cal (Pa.), will play with them on occasion, forcing them to raise their level even further.

Williamson said the high-energy training makes everyone better.

“It got a little heated because we're all so competitive,” she said of Sunday's practice. “We just push each other.”

According to Montecalvo, this competitiveness doesn't come across through overly physical play or anything negative. It's a good thing. Moreso just players supporting one another and doing so after practice is over even if they're not part of the same position group or weren't on the same team during a scrimmage.

“We try to really reinforce the importance of the pace of practice so that we can play at the pace we want to play when we play the good teams down the road in the playoffs here,” Montecalvo said. “They know we need to do this to each other to be as good as we can possibly be.”

The fast pace comes across in the highly-regimented nature of practice, an approach Montecalvo credits her dad, who spent 26 years in charge of the Little Prexies, with imparting on her.

In the games themselves, lack of focus hasn't been an issue.

Despite the blowout victories, Montecalvo said the team has actually improved its game-to-game consistency and sustained a high energy level better than it did in past years when playing in a tough Class AA section with traditional powers Bishop Canevin and Seton-La Salle. Playing down to competition hasn't happened.

“They come out and they play really hard every night. Kind of as if their life depended on it,” Montecalvo said. “Those are the habits you have to form to be able to play that way when you need to. It's not just like a turn it on, turn it off kind of thing.”

The coach said this effort comes from her players realizing the importance of developing good habits. A desire to win has always been there for the group, with players thinking nothing of showing up at 8 a.m. on summer mornings for workouts.

“Doing things right even when you think it doesn't matter. If you miss that layup because you're up 30, knowing that it does matter,” Montecalvo said. “They've bought into that school of thought a lot more than they used to.”

Jasper Wilson is a freelance writer.

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