A new coach and a few fresh faces haven’t changed the results for the Fort Cherry girls basketball team.
Despite longtime coach Bob Miles leaving for Trinity in the offseason and the graduation of Beka Bellhy, Jessie Merckle and Carolena Gasbarro – 72 percent of the Rangers’ offense last season – first-year coach Gary Kacsur has led Fort Cherry to wins in three of its first four games entering tonight’s Section 4-AA test at reigning WPIAL Class AA champion Seton-La Salle.
“The girls are working very hard,” Kacsur said. “We’re having a lot of fun.”
Junior Rachel Bellhy, finally healthy after suffering an ankle injury during the playoffs a season ago, has been averaging 15 points and a team-best 12 rebounds per game.
Classmate Jenna Lucas has accounted for 17 points per game while also pulling down five rebounds and dishing out four assists per night. Sophomore Tina Bellhy has contributed eight points and eight rebounds per game for Fort Cherry, which has outrebounded its past three opponents by a two-to-one ratio, Kacsur said.
“My big thing when I came here was I told them that they need to rebound and play defense,” said Kacsur, who was an assistant coach with West Allegheny for six years before taking over at Fort Cherry. “That makes you win games – defense and rebounding.
“I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, but if you rebound and play defense, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Besides the new Big Three, Allie McVicker, Kayla Carlini and Sydney Relihan have given Fort Cherry quality minutes, with Carlini the only senior among the Rangers’ top six players.
“It’s a good start,” Kacsur said of beating Ringgold, Brentwood and Monessen by an average of 12.3 points per game. “You never complain about a win. But you can never be satisfied.”
Similar story for Carmichaels boys
Carmichaels jumped out to a 5-0 start behind the strong play of Brandon Lawless, Sean Smoggie and Josh Mundell, a trio that’s accounting for roughly 70 percent of the Mikes’ offense.
Prior to Wednesday’s 52-48 loss to Jefferson-Morgan, Lawless was averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds per game, and Smoggie has contributed 13 points a night. Josh Mundell was averaging eight points per game.
Carmichaels has been pulling down around 35 rebounds per game.
“We’re playing really good defense, and we’re rebounding the ball well,” Carmichaels coach Don Williams said. “That enables us to get it out of our end, and we’ve been running with the basketball, trying to get it out in the transition game.”
Carmichaels went 8-15 last season and tied for third with Jefferson-Morgan at 5-5 for third place in Section 3-A, losing to North Catholic in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
With Lawless, Smoggie and Mundell back, the Mikes are in an advantageous position in the section this year, as Monessen has stumbled to an 0-5 start and Clairton hasn’t played a game yet because of the Bears’ football success.
“I want us to continue to play defense and rebound like we have been,” Williams said. “We stress that every night. We work on defense and rebounding every day, and it’s been paying off. Offense can come and go. Defense and rebounding are two things that are there every night – with a little bit of work.”
Simonson, Levers named all-state
Two area players have been named to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-State team: Peters Township’s Shiloh Simonson and Chartiers-Houston’s Lacey Levers.
Simonson, a 5-9 outside hitter who’s committed to Point Park, averaged 3.4 kills and 3.1 digs per set, helping Peters Township (16-3) reach the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals for the first time.
The 6-1 Levers is a Duquesne recruit and averaged 5.3 kills and 3.2 digs per set this fall for Chartiers-Houston, which went 13-3 and earned the first playoff win in program history. Levers also averaged a block and an ace per set, holding the school record in digs, aces and kills.