Area basketball coaches start preparing teams
With all of the football gear finally packed away locally, area gyms have been busy with the sound of dribbling basketballs as high school practices officially began Monday for varsity boys’ and girls’ teams.
One thing is for certain: At the start of the season, every coach is optimistic.
At Monessen, coach Joe Salvino is beginning his 31st season running the boys’ program and is coming off a 21-7 campaign that included an impressive trip to the WPIAL Class A championship game.
Salvino has two starters (Lavelle Rush and Noah Rullo) and several experienced players, including sophomores Justice Rice and Jaden Altomore, returning from a year ago and said he has been pleased with the first week of workouts so far.
“We had about 40 kids try out and I cut it to 25,” he said. “There is a lot of interest so far, things are going well. We have some kids who want to work.”
Monessen will have its first scrimmage Saturday at home against Washington.
At Ringgold, Phil Pergola is starting his second season back with the Rams and 44th season on the bench overall.
A year ago, Ringgold went 5-16, but Pergola said his current team is miles ahead of last year.
“You can see we’re a lot further ahead than we were a year ago,” Pergola said. “We’ll be better, but we’re still young.”
Pergola welcomed 30 players to tryouts this week and said he will whittle that number to between 18 and 22.
One big difference for Ringgold will be on the bench where Pergola’s longtime assistant Jim Williams has retired. He will be replaced by Dan Shipman, the head coach at Johnstown Area.
Ringgold’s first scrimmage is set for Tuesday at Albert Gallatin.
Charleroi Area coach Bill Wiltz has to replace his starting lineup from last season’s 13-8 squad, but don’t look for a lengthy rebuilding project for the Cougars.
“We can build around (junior) John Arnold, who is 6-8, and we have some decent guard play around him,” Wiltz said. “We’ve had a couple of good days so far and I am pretty optimistic about this bunch.”
Charleroi’s first scrimmage is Nov. 28 at Geibel.
Belle Vernon Area coach Lisa Fairman is excited about the team she began working with this week.
The Leps went 16-7 a year ago and made the playoffs and the 2014-15 team returns four starters, including Bucknell recruit Kaitlyn Slagus, a 6-2 senior.
“We have a veteran team with six returning seniors,” Fairman said. “They know what is expected from them and they have been working hard.”
Fairman welcomed 18 players out for the season and many of them have been with her for four years.
“This is the group I started with when they were freshmen,” she said. “So, yeah, I’m excited.”
BVA’s first scrimmage is set for Monday at Uniontown.
Ringgold coach Laura Grimm begins her second season with high expectations for the Rams, who were 13-10 a year ago.
“I was a little disappointed with the number of girls who came out (15), but considering we only had 11 last year, that is an improvement,” said Grimm.
“Earlier, I had seen a lot of individual improvement, but now … I’m seeing team improvement.”
Grimm said the Rams will show some youth with 6-6 West Virginia University recruit Marlena Schmidt being the lone senior expected to start.
Ringgold’s first scrimmage is Saturday at McGuffey.
A year ago, California Area had a historic season, going 19-5 and reaching the WPIAL Class A semifinals for the first time in school history.
Coach Chris Minerd lost one player from that squad and said practice is going well for the Trojans.
“There’s no doubt we have high hopes,” said Minerd. “The biggest challenge for us is that we won’t be sneaking up on anyone. We won the section and did well in the playoffs. We will be the team with the target on our back.
“We have a couple injuries, but by the time the section starts, at the latest, everybody should be OK.
California will scrimmage at Steel Valley Monday.
NOTES: Other first scrimmages on tap include, BVA boys (Perry at home Nov. 29) and California boys (Waynesburg at home Nov. 25), and girls, Monessen (Clairton at home Monday) and Charleroi (Albert Gallatin away Nov. 29).
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or [email protected].