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Fundamental approach has Monessen girls basketball thinking playoffs

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Qitarah Hardison works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the high school's gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Marquela Green works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the high school's gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Monessen head coach Janine Vertacnik talks with Qitarah Hardison during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the high school's gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Monessen's Zykavia Hairston works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the high school's gym.

Senior Marqula Green and juniors Qitarah Hardison and Zykavia Hairston walk by the trophy case loaded with mementos commemorating the rich history of Monessen girls basketball every day before practice.

Inside are photos of PIAA and WPIAL championship-winning teams and relics of standouts from the past, such as former WNBA player Charel Allen.

Once they get inside the gym, they see banners hanging from the rafters, a permanent reminder of the state, district and section championships the program racked up over the years.

It’s been some time since Monessen girls basketball added a number to a banner. The once-proud program has been in a rut, not qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs since 2012. Green, Hardison and Hairston have seen their share of hard times, including a 3-18 record last season. But the trio believe things are about to change, and they want to help Monessen take the first steps back to prominence this season.

“There’s more positive energy this year, more motivation,” Green said. “It was hard before because we just didn’t have enough girls.”

Monessen hopes a sizable freshman class, which includes guards Kinsey Wilson, Mercedes Majors and Kendelle Weston, helps the Greyhounds navigate the Section 2-A schedule with enough success to snag one of four playoff berths.

The Greyhounds have taken the initial steps in working toward the postseason. Under the guidance of longtime WPIAL coach Janine Vertacnik, who is in her first season at Monessen after stops in Jeannette, Greensburg Salem, Yough and Pitt-Greensburg, the Greyhounds are working on a fundamental approach, something that was missing because of low numbers and a barren feeder system. Players are talking postseason.

And Vertacnik likes what she hears, but she is most impressed with the players’ willingness to learn.

“They’re all ears,” said Vertacnik, who led Jeannette to a WPIAL title in 2010. “There’s enthusiasm. The work ethic is there. The girls are lifting weights, and they come to practice with excitement every day. It makes me excited to coach them. They want to learn. I’m excited about that.”

Green, Hardison and Hairston provide leadership, and they are joined by junior Jahnell Jackson and sophomore Sydney Caterino as players with starting experience. Eight freshmen joined the mix, and Vertacnik believes they can provide the necessary depth to help Monessen pressure in hopes of creating easier scoring chances.

“Defensively, I’ll put these kids up against anybody,” Vertacnik said.

She put them up against JV programs from larger schools at a summer league in McKeesport, and Monessen performed well.

The competition faced there might be better than some teams in the section, which features WPIAL finalist West Greene, Geibel, Avella, California, Jefferson-Morgan and Mapletown.

“I saw some promise in our players during the summer. Even though it was JV, Class A is a big drop from what we went against this summer,” Vertacnik said. “I’d like us to get to the playoffs, and who knows? Maybe we can slide into fourth place in our section and build from there.”

A third- or fourth-place finish might not add a banner at Monessen, but it would be a significant and memorable step for Green, Hardison and Hairston.

Making the WPIAL playoffs and restoring pride in the program is a goal for the trio.

Actually, it might mean a lot more …

“It would mean everything,” they said in unison.

Mike Kovak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mike at [email protected] or via Twitter @MKovak_Trib.

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