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Leechburg girls hope youth pays off

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, November 30, 2014 5:51 p.m
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Leechburg's Mikayla Lovelace shoots during practice at the high school Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Leechburg's Makenzie Fello drives to the hoop during practice at the high school on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Leechburg girls coach Joel Ceraso during practice at the high school on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.

It’s not often that optimism swirls around a varsity program that possibly could start five freshmen. But Leechburg girls basketball coach Joel Ceraso has no choice but to feel optimistic.

“They’re jumping right into the fire and have to grow up quick,” said Ceraso, who is beginning his second season as coach. “We take no comfort in having a lot of young kids.”

With a roster that is the equivalent to one at the junior varsity level, Ceraso has “tempered optimism” when it comes to this group.

Eight of the girls on the 11-player roster are freshmen. But they arrive at the varsity level after having enjoyed success at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels.

Their middle school success has created a soft buzz around the program.

“My main goal is to teach these girls and to compete at the varsity level,” Ceraso said. “If they come out competing then it’s a step in the right direction.”

Leechburg finished 1-17 last season and 0-10 in Section 1-AA.

Ceraso has three returning players from last season, including 5-foot-6 senior guard Missy Jones.

But as luck would have it, Ceraso may not be able to go to his lone senior right away as Jones is still experiencing concussion-like symptoms from a head injury she suffered while playing volleyball.

The two other familiar faces with varsity experience are junior forward Kathleen Camp and sophomore small forward Gabi Kaszubski.

If there ever was a silver lining to potentially starting five freshmen, the Blue Devils drop to Class AA and compete in Section 2-A this season.

Mikayla Lovelace is one of Ceraso’s ninth-graders to watch as the season moves forward.

“She’s athletic, skilled and very long,” Ceraso said. “She comes from an athletic family and puts a lot of time in at the gym and is very coachable.”

Freshmen Makenzie Fellom and Cam Davies are also primed to contribute right away.

The 5-6 Fellom exudes leadership on the court and has shown the ability to rally her team. Davies, the daughter of Leechburg boys varsity coach Damian Davies, has been described as a gym rat with great ball-handling skills.

“These kids spent a lot of time in the gym over the summer,” Ceraso said. “(They) like to be in the gym and get better.”

With a full year to implement his system, Ceraso feels the program as a whole is in a better place than where it was a year ago.

“I think we’ll do a little better job on both defense and offense because we’ve had a year to do what we do,” Ceraso said. “Hard work pays off, and they’ll see the fruits of their labor, and they’ll have the chance to reap the benefits.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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