Joe Salvino has never minded playing a tough non-section schedule. Sure, the wins and losses might not look as pretty as those at some other schools, but the Greyhounds were generally better for it.
Tough to argue, too, considering Monessen has made the WPIAL playoffs a record 31 consecutive times.
But getting out of this straightjacket – losses in eight of nine games, the lone exception being a forfeit win over Imani Christian in the Gateway Hoops Classic – might require Salvino’s greatest trick yet.
“You always hope you learn when you play a tough exhibition schedule,” Salvino said. “Guess we’ll find out Friday when we play Geibel.”
Monessen has suffered losses to Chartiers Valley, Franklin Regional, Norwin, Westinghouse, Imani Christian, Allderdice, Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic. None is close to Monessen’s enrollment. Combined, they’re 44-23.
Mix that with the fact Monessen lost four starters from last year’s 25-4 team – 68 percent of the Greyhounds’ scoring – that reached the WPIAL Class AA championship game, and you start to get a picture of why things have been so difficult.
“There’s no one out there on this team that has enough game experience to know what the game is like,” Salvino said. “I don’t think they realize how fast the varsity game actually was. And it’s taking them a long time.”
At least there’s some precedent here.
Monessen lost seven of its first 10 games in 2005-06 before rebounding to finish 13-12 and reach the WPIAL Class A playoffs, though the Greyhounds lost to Leechburg by three in the first round.
Will the Greyhounds do the same this year? Only time will tell, though Justice Rawlins, Clintell Gillaspie (12.6 points per game) and Javon Brown (9.2) have been a few bright spots.
But the start of Section 3-A play will be a welcome change, with a home game against Geibel Friday and road games at Avella and Mapletown next week.
Combined, those three are 3-18.
“With an inexperienced team, you’re hoping that once the holidays are over, you can get back to your regular routine,” Salvino said. “You’re hoping you can come together and play a lot better.”
Gina Naccarato, Monessen’s girls basketball coach, certainly understands Salvino’s predicament.
The two could probably serve as grief counselors for one another.
Like the boys team, Monessen’s girls lost four senior starters and have stumbled to an 0-7 start, a stark contrast to last year’s 20-4 mark and WPIAL Class A quarterfinals berth.
“We decided to play a tougher schedule because we had a lot of kids who were inexperienced at the varsity level,” Naccarato said. “We wanted to prepare them for the section, so that was a decision we made as a coaching staff. Obviously, you don’t want to start (0-7), but I think we played good competition.”
Losses to Jeannette, Fort Cherry and Ringgold are certainly respectable, though the Greyhounds are scoring just 23 points per game, a number Naccarato would obviously like to see get larger with the start of Section 4-A play.
Mariah Ward has been averaging 14 points per game, while Chelsea Szakal, her knee finally healthy, has contributed seven per game. Szakal leads the team in rebounding at 6.8.
“They just need game experience,” Naccarato said of her young team. “You can simulate everything in practice, but when it gets to the game, it’s a whole different situation. Out of the five starters, only two of them have any varsity experience.
“I’m not saying I like to lose, but it doesn’t really mean anything until section play starts.”