Saturday, January 23, 2021 | 8:01 AM
Plum girls basketball coach Steve Elsier said his team has played well as it gets into the meat of its truncated season but knows there are a lot of challenging matchups ahead as the Mustangs hope to claim their first section championship and set themselves up for a WPIAL playoff run.
“The girls are just thankful they have the opportunity to play,” said Elsier, whose team was 2-1 overall and 2-0 in Section 2-5A after a 58-27 victory over Kiski Area on Jan. 19.
“They were as patient as possible through the shutdown and stayed focused knowing they would have a chance.”
Because of covid concerns, the Plum School District closed its buildings and went to remote learning in late November. As a result, all athletic activities were shut down.
The team returned to practices the week of Dec. 7 and worked out for five days before Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders to cease athletic activities for three weeks in an attempt to slow the covid spread went into effect.
Elsier said during the time away from each other, the team members did a good job of staying connected through Zoom and team-building sessions while workouts helped them stay in shape.
“We studied film of the Villanova press that we run,” Elsier said. “We talked about how to guard with that. That really helped out a lot because the girls are pressing really well defensively.”
When the shutdown ended Jan. 4, the team came back for a week of practices in advance of its first game against Mars on Jan. 12.
“That first day back, we were a little sloppy, but we looked better and better each day throughout the week,” Elsier said. “It took some time to get back in rhythm.”
Behind 29 points from senior Oakland commit Kennedie Montue, 14 from freshman Megan Marston and 13 more from junior Kai Johnson, Plum topped Mars, 59-48.
“We started two freshmen (Marston and Rayla Smith) and were without (senior guard) Jamie Seneca, but we were able to show what we can do with a good team effort,” Elsier said.
“We pressed well and got turnovers. Mars is a good team, but we battled and did a lot of good things to get that first win. It was a nice boost for the girls to show they can play.”
Despite his team’s 58-47 loss to Upper St. Clair on Jan. 14, Elsier said it was a great experience against a quality 6A program on the road.
“We were down 19 points at halftime and cut it to five in the fourth. Our press was really working,” he said. “Had we played a little bit longer, it might have turned into a better situation.”
Montue tallied 30 points against USC and repeated that mark in the victory over Kiski Area.
Seneca was able to get a few minutes off the bench against Upper St. Clair and then saw her minutes increase against Kiski Area. That led to a projected start against Hampton last Thursday.
The game against the Talbots and a scheduled section matchup against Armstrong on Tuesday were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.
“Jamie is looking really good,” Elsier said. “She’s playing strong as a leader with confidence.”
Elsier said he likes the way sophomore forward Dannika Susko is rebounding and performing defensively while also improving on how she scores down low.
He also has been impressed with the minutes turned in by fellow sophomore Camryn Rogers.
“We have the deepest team we’ve had in my four years here,” Elsier said.
“We have a lot of versatility at the guard spot, and we’ve shown good work with our zone press and our man-to-man defense. With such a short season, we have to pick and choose a couple of things to really focus on. We’ve focused a lot on the game between each 3-point line. Sometimes, as coaches, we focus so much from the 3-point line and in, offensively and defensively, in the half court. But we’re really pushing it from 3-point line to 3-point line where a lot of important aspects of the game happen.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .