Highlands girls looking for improvement after 3-16 campaign
While still young in a chronological sense, the Highlands girls basketball team feels it has enough experience to enter playoff contention this season from Section 1-AAA.
The Golden Rams took their lumps last year, finishing 1-11 in the section, 3-16 overall.
If Highlands is to move up the section ladder, the Golden Rams might credit a neighborly favor.
Highlands trained over the summer with Burrell. Coach Ron Lang wanted to show his Golden Rams how a successful program goes about its business.
The Bucs have gone deep into the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs the past two seasons and are highly touted again for the coming year.
“We were fortunate enough to have open gyms with Burrell,” said Lang, entering his fourth season. “They got to see the (Sydney) Bordonaro girl, the (Natalie) Myers girl and how hard they work. And it rubbed off on these girls.”
“It was a really good experience,” sophomore Ashlyn Jonczak added. “We became friends with them, and we learned everything they do. It was really nice.”
Jonczak and then-freshman Nicole Boda were the team’s leading scorers last year, with Boda averaging 11.4 per game and Jonczak 10.7.
“I think we’ll be a lot better than last year,” Jonczak said. “We put in a lot of work over the summer. We didn’t have a very good record last year, but we think we can win a lot more and work better as a team.”
Out of the top seven players, five are freshmen or sophomores. There’s one junior and a lone senior, Shannon Bernardi, to build around.
Freshmen Renee Cebula and Emily Cochran are expected to start. Nia Thomas is nursing an injury but Lang hopes she will be ready for the start of the regular season Dec. 5 against another neighbor, St. Joseph, in what will be the shortest road trip of the year — practically across the street.
Also expecting to contribute are Kayla Beale and Kaelyn Borowski.
“We’re in a situation now where all five can dribble, all five can shoot,” Lang said.
From nightmarishly low numbers just a few years ago, Highlands is starting to welcome a larger turnout.
“The 10th graders now, we started them as eighth- graders,” Lang said. “We played the fall schedule and played in the Freeport winter league then played about 25 Catholic schools over that winter. They want to play. We’ve got a good seventh grade class and a big and tall eighth grade class.”
Lang expects to dress 10 players for junior varsity games.
He believes Mars and Hampton are teams to beat in the section but expects Knoch to improve and Kittanning to continue playing hard in that school’s final season.
Drew Jonczak will be Lang’s assistant.
George Guido is a freelance writer.