Charleroi girls' basketball embraces youthful roster
A year ago, the Charleroi Area girls' basketball team had seven underclassmen in its rotation and still made a run to the WPIAL playoffs.
A pair of narrow late-season losses prevented Charleroi from tying for the section title, and while this year's team is still young, there is a different approach.
Charleroi replaced Joe Grodz as head coach with Kevin Lee, a former 1,000-point scorer for the Cougars, and according to the new coach, the team shares his love of the hardwood.
“I am looking forward to working with these girls and building things here,” Lee said. “These girls share my passion and play all year around.”
Lee inherits a team that will feature four sophomores and one junor in the starting lineup.
The sophomore starters are point guard Aislyn Lee, shooting guard Maria Claybaugh, and forwards Kaitlyn Riley and Maggie Albert. Junior guard Adrianna Gottheld rounds out the starters.
Sophomore forward Larissa Usher and a pair of seniors, guard Kyra Watkins and forward Kaitlynn McCann, will also see playing time.
Riley, Lee, and Gottheld all started a year ago while Claybaugh, Albert, and McCann all lettered.
Another sophomore, forward Sierra Short, started last year as a freshman but was lost for the season when she suffered a major injury during a soccer match.
So how has Lee, who started his coaching career almost 25 years ago with the Belle Vernon Area boys program under current Charleroi athletic director and boys coach Bill Wiltz, looked to change things?
“The girls have to get used to the new system,” Lee said. “Plus we have to stay healthy and utilize our speed since we don't have a lot of size.
“We are young but the girls gained experience a year ago.”
When asked about who he sees as a leader, Lee shared his view.
“It is tough to pinpoint because the girls all lead in different ways and do their own thing,” he said. “They are a quiet bunch though, and we are looking for a vocal leader.
“But they really are a close knit group so that is good.”
Charleroi plays in Section 4-AA, and Lee did not pull punches when asked about which teams are the front-runners.
“Washington returns a lot, Frazier returns experience, and Beth-Center should be good,” he said. “Everyone is gunning for those teams but it is going to be a competitive section.”
Lee says the fact a lot of his girls played on the Charleroi soccer team that reached the WPIAL title game will help the cause.
“Six of these girls played on the soccer team so they know how to win,” he said. “Hopefully it transfers over to the (basketball) court.”
Charleroi hosts a Tipoff tournament that starts Friday and it hosts Monessen at 7 p.m.
Clairton faces Carmichaels in the opener.
Bill Hughes is a freelance writer.