Shaler girls basketball finds promise in defense
Emily Cavacini was convinced the Shaler girls basketball team could show progress if the defense could improve.
The junior guard wasn’t ready to bow out after the Titans opened the season 0-5, losing by an average margin of 25.4 points.
“Because we are a young team, we had to focus on our younger players learning the keys to the defense, making the right rotations and executing things,” Cavacini said. “We definitely showed if we played good defense we could make it happen on offense. … When we had close games, if we didn’t make those little mistakes we can come out with a win.”
Shaler, which played Seneca Valley in a Section 1-6A contest last Wednesday in a game whose results were too late for this edition, found a way to remain competitive. While earning a WPIAL playoff bid is unlikely, Shaler (6-12, 4-7) forced its way back into the conversation by winning tight contests.
Five of the Titans’ previous eight games have been decided by five points or fewer, and Shaler went 4-4 over that stretch.
The Titans claimed narrow wins over Seneca Valley (38-35), Pine-Richland (31-26), Butler (32-31) and Vincentian Academy (37-35).
Shaler also dropped a difficult decision to North Hills (31-28) during that stretch.
“It is nerve-wracking,” Cavacini said. “We knew coming into the season we were going to be in a lot of close games. In some games, we put it together and come out with win. As a team, we get flustered, and when you are put down in a situation like that, everything has to be perfect.”
Titans coach Cornelious Nesbit saw it as part of rebuilding a program. Shaler only has two seniors.
“We looked at it as a process,” Nesbit said. “As a young team, we are in a lot of close ball games where every situation matters. The best teaching tool is to be in those situations.”
Finding a way to keep scores close required re-evaluating everything. Nesbit didn’t feel like the players settled into their roles before Shaler played at the Penn Hills Christmas Tournament.
The Titans have played better defense against section opponents, limiting their foes to 40.2 points per game compared to their season average of 44.2 points.
When the defense straightened out, it helped put the season on track.
“For us, we watched a lot of film with our team and didn’t watch the other team,” Nesbit said. “We watched ourselves and what we needed to help the kids with, specifically what they were and weren’t understanding.”
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.