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‘Seasoned group’ returns to help Mt. Pleasant girls return to WPIAL playoffs

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant’s Lexi Stanek works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the school’s gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant’s Juliann Kalp works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the school’s gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant’s Lexi Stanek works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the school’s gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant’s Mya Klejka works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the school’s gym.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mt. Pleasant’s Mya Klejka works out during practice Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the school’s gym.

The Mt. Pleasant girls basketball team spent the better part of the past decade developing a standard of excellence, one in which it challenged for section supremacy and became a perennial playoff participant. But last season was distinctive at Mt. Pleasant for what didn’t occur.

For the first time since 2007, Mt. Pleasant failed to reach the postseason. That’s a situation coach Scott Giacobbi, now in his 14th season at the helm of the Vikings, wants to rectify.

“It was a little disappointing,” Giacobbi said. “We struggled with injuries, and we weren’t able to put things together down the stretch. But we built some momentum at the end of the season, and we want to build on that.”

Despite being eliminated from the playoff race, Mt. Pleasant won its final three games a year ago. To build on that, Giacobbi will looking to a core group of four seniors and one junior to lead the way.

“I feel like we have a seasoned group,” Giacobbi said. “We have girls who have been around our program for a long time and know our system. We have high expectations for our team, and they know what those expectations are.”

Leading the way for Mt. Pleasant will be a pair of returning starters in senior guard Chloe Jaworski, the top returning scorer for the Vikings who averaged just under 10 points a game, along with senior point guard Juliann Kalp. Giacobbi is going to lean on Kalp’s experience at the point to keep things running smoothly.

“We are going to depend heavily on her floor leadership and decision-making,” Giacobbi said. “We’re going to look at all of our seniors to be leaders.”

Kalp and Jaworski will be joined by three players who saw extensive playing time a year ago in seniors Tara Tuccarello and Mya Klejka, along with junior guard Sydney Kanuch.

Senior forward Coral Kohuth will provide much-needed depth off the bench for Mt. Pleasant.

“We also have some younger players who are pushing the older girls for minutes,” Giacobbi said. “I think our team chemistry is going to shape up well.”

That chemistry will be put to the test, as realignment has created one of the more competitive sections in Class 4A. While defending section champion Keystone Oaks has been moved out, along with playoff team South Park, section runner-up Belle Vernon returns, as does Elizabeth Forward, which took perennial power Blackhawk to the wire in the WPIAL tournament last season.

Three teams that were in Class 5A the last two seasons, Ringgold, McKeesport and West Mifflin, have moved down a classification into Mt. Pleasant’s section. Ringgold reached the WPIAL playoffs last season.

“Our section is probably the toughest we’ve ever been in,” Giacobbi said. “There is a whole new level of competition, and we have to adjust for that.”

And in the process, focus on getting back to the playoffs after the one-year hiatus.

“It’s not about the streak,” Giacobbi said. “If this is a playoff-caliber team, then I want us to be in the hunt for a section championship.

“The initial goal is always to qualify and advance in the playoffs, but we also want to contend for a section championship.”

Jim Equels Jr. is a freelance writer.

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