Cheswick Christian girls have high expectations
In his seventh season as coach of the Cheswick Christian Academy girls basketball team, Deric Johnson may have one of his best teams.
The seeds were planted this summer when players got together to work out, the sting of a one-point first-round playoff loss to Jefferson County Christian School in the Southwest Christian Athletic Conference playoff tournament still on their minds.
“That loss probably inspired these girls,” Johnson said.
The Chargers, who finished with a 13-5 record, lost three starters. But Johnson wasn’t worried. After a large turnover of players four years ago, he understood the talent, depth and potential of this year’s team.
Johnson has SWCAC all-star Jacque Willis to lean on. The 5-foot-6 senior guard averaged a team-high 11 points last season.
“She can play all five spots,” Johnson said. “She’s very versatile and leads the team in blocks and is top three in rebounds.”
Another senior Johnson will look toward to provide leadership is 5-4 guard Alyssa Slancauskas. A fourth-year starter, Johnson describes Slancauskas as a warrior on the court with a great perimeter shot.
“She does whatever you want her to do on the court,” Johnson said. “A couple of times she’s taken games over and won games for us.”
First-year player Emma Schell is also pushing for playing time. The 5-4 senior guard’s ball-handling skills make her tough to defend.
“Emma is going to be a big addition to the team,” Johnson said. “She is real tough and will do whatever it takes to win.”
Sophomore power forward Kathleen Swartzwelder (5-8) is raw but is expected to contribute heavily in the middle. Swartwelder excels at rebounding and running the court.
“We’re just starting with the tip of the iceberg as far as potential, and it’s starting to show itself,” Johnson said.
A battle for the final forward position between 5-7 junior Morgan Ferdarko and 5-4 junior Nicole Pugliese is bringing the best out of both players.
While Ferdarko may have a height advantage over Pugilese, Pugliese has been described as the team’s best passer and a solid rebounder.
“Both have potential and bring different things to the court,” Johnson said. “They are very interchangeable, and it could be more situational.”
In the SWCAC, rules permit eighth graders to play varsity sports. The rule allows for the smaller schools to dip a little deeper in their student population.
“Our bench runs deep,” Johnson said. “It’s as deep as it’s ever been, and the fall-off from the first and second team is as close as it’s ever been.”
Eighth-grader Bethany Kosor (5-3) is an example of the aforementioned rule and is expected to push for playing time.
William Whalen is a freelance writer.