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High School Sports

Kittanning girls looking to hit their stride

| Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010

Off to a strong 6-3 start, Kittanning's girls basketball team still hasn't played at its best this season — just the way coach Janelle Kotyk likes it.

"As a coach, you want to see your team get better every day," Kotyk said. "You don't want to play your best basketball in December."

Well, Kotyk's Wildcats will play their second game of January today, and it won't be a bad time to take their game up to a new level.

In a Section 1-AAA matchup that has been postponed twice since Thursday and moved from its original site in Kittanning due to the snowy weather, the Wildcats will travel to Hampton at 4 p.m. to take on the 8-1 Talbots -- ranked fourth in Class AAA by the Tribune-Review News Service.

While today's contest has the potential to be one of the toughest Kittanning will face all year, the Wildcats believe the nonconference games they played over the first month of the season have them well-prepared for Hampton and the other challenges awaiting in 1-AAA.

"We tried real hard at the end of last season to really challenge ourselves with exhibition games. We took on difficult games" Kotyk said. "To move our program in the right direction, we needed to do that."

The Wildcats opened their season by hosting the Kittanning Tip-Off Tournament, and though they faced a pair of 2009 District 9 playoff teams in Clarion and Moniteau, they won both games easily.

Kittanning's first top-tier matchup came Dec. 15, when Class AA No. 4 Jeannette and its dominant guard duo of Kayla Cook and Shanae Daye visited. The Wildcats put up a good fight but were handed their first loss, 56-49.

Senior forward Britta Emberg said that loss will pay dividends in the future.

"I see it helping us tremendously," said Emberg, Kittanning's leading scorer at 11 points per game. "Seeing that kind of guard play, it should really helps us when we see those kinds of guards again."

Two weeks after falling to Jeannette, Kittanning ended December with two more tough tests in the State College Holiday Tournament.

Facing Quad-A Strath Haven in the first round, Kittanning lost a 34-33 nail-biter, when a last-second basket by Sara Ohm was waved off by the officials. The following day, in the consolation game, the Wildcats made up for that defeat with a 38-24 win over Perry, which is in first place in the Pittsburgh City League.

But while the first month of the season appeared to show Kittanning can compete with upper-echelon programs, it also exposed some flaws — namely, inconsistent scoring.

At no other time was that a bigger issue than in the Strath Haven loss, when the Wildcats went through a seven-minute scoreless stretch.

The Wildcats average 46.1 points per game but have failed to get out of the 30s in four of their games.

"If we can start scoring more in the 50s, I think we'd put ourselves in a better position," Kotyk said. "We seem to get streaky throughout games."

Of course, not even Kotyk was expecting Kittanning to be firing on all cylinders in December. But now that the calendar has turned and section play is in full swing, the Wildcats will hope to put their experience from last month to good use.

"We've had some high points and some struggles," Emberg said. "But I think we're starting to pick it up and play as a team."

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