New coaches to mix with vets
The high school basketball season gets under way Friday night, and some familiar faces will patrol the sidelines while a couple of new ones will begin their first season in the girls' ranks.
Monessen mentor Major Corley enters his 21st season, Nick Mahalko is in his fourth season at Charleroi and Ringgold's Joe Ravasio is in the second year of his second stint with the Lady Rams.
Tim Keefer will debut at Belle Vernon Area, as will Jeremy Sellew at California.
Corley enters the season having only lost one starter from his defending WPIAL Class A championship squad from a year ago.
"I think that we will go deep in the playoffs," he said. "This will be one of my fastest and deepest teams that I have had."
Monessen could be as good as last year, but has to contend with perennial powers North Catholic and Avonworth, who dropped from Class AAA and AA, respectively.
The key to Monessen's success may be junior Christina Chukwuedo, a transfer from Texas.
She will man the shooting guard position, while junior Kelly Mornak returns at the point.
The forward positions will be handled by junior Melissa Popovich and sophomore Samone Stepoli.
The fifth starter will be either Brianna Salvino or Carly Cocciolone, both seniors.
There's also junior defensive standout Breanne Minardi, sophomore Jessica Diggs and junior Chaka Williams.
According to Corley, his team will be able to play even more up tempo with their depth.
"We will be able to trap more and play more man defense," he said. "In the past, we would have to go to a zone so we didn't get into foul trouble. Now if we get into foul trouble, we can sub someone in and still stay in a pressure defense."
Across the river at Charleroi, Mahalko will be starting four guards.
"We are going with four guards because we lost four inside players," he said. "Because of that, we will be a lot faster than our teams of the past but if we can't rebound, the speed will mean nothing."
Senior Tiffany Bradley and sophomore Aly Lee return as starters at the guard positions.
Junior Makayla Neff and sophomore Jess Sidary will be the other two guards.
Junior Jenn Samoda, a two-year starter, will be the lone forward.
"Makayla is one of the fastest girls I have ever coached," Mahalko said. "But again, if we don't box out and rebound, we won't win many games. If we can rebound, we should be a very exciting team."
Ravasio has three sophomores who are returning starters from last year's team in Bethany Warren, Emily Shartner and Jennie Affinito.
"We will be young but we will have profited from playing in such a tough section last year," said Ravasio whose team dropped down to Class AAA. "We are in a tough section with Southmoreland and Greensburg Salem but our goal is to win the section championship."
The other two positions will be filled between freshman Alaina Selby and seniors Lisa Sanko and Cassidy Quattrone.
Ravasio has his blueprint set for the team to be successful.
"We have to be physical and play great defense from baseline to baseline," he said. "We also have to rebound and set the tempo."
Keefer is optimistic about his team at BVA.
"We will have different lineups depending on who we are playing," he said. "We will be about 12 deep in the rotation."
Seniors Kayla Nuccetelli and Emily Scapes are in the backcourt for the Lady Leopards while junior Page Anderson is the small forward. Junior Kayla Watson and freshman Jocelyn Connolly are the power forwards.
Freshman Jessalyn Timko is the center, and another freshman, Lisa Manderino, will also see a lot of time.
"We have a lot of talent but are young," Keefer said. "But we are working hard and will get tested right away."
At California, Sellew looks to turn the Lady Trojan program around.
"We have a good mix of experience and youth," he said. "I coached all of these girls in middle school so they know what to expect from me."
Sellew's initial starting lineup will feature three seniors: Amanda Mikula, Rose Hiles and Tori Bennett.
Freshman Morgan Moluski will start under the basket while the other starter will be freshman Kristen Wagner or sophomore Kelly Lassoy.
The mix of upperclassmen and younger girls give Sellew a nice mix.
"We just have to get it all to come together," he said.
Monessen and California head to Charleroi Friday for their annual Tip-Off tournament. Monessen plays Carmichaels at 6 p.m. with Charleroi facing California at 7:30 p.m.
Ringgold opens section play Monday at Yough while BVA draws Avonworth Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Brentwood tourney.