The turning point for the Point Park University women's basketball team and first-year head coach Tony Grenek came Dec. 10 at Carnegie Mellon.
The Pioneers trailed by seven points at the half, and Grenek didn't sugar-coat his halftime comments to his players.
Point Park rallied for a 56-54 victory and has kept on winning.
Grenek's team has won eight consecutive games, which ties the longest winning streak in school history. The Pioneers will try to make it nine in a row when they play at Roberts Wesleyan in an NAIA American Mideast Conference game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Point Park (13-4, 4-0 AMC) has been winning the old-fashion way ... with defense and rebounding.
The Pioneers are No. 2 in NAIA Division II in scoring defense, allowing opponents 53.5 points per game. They are No. 2 in offensive rebounds (18.4 per game) and No. 4 in turnover margin (plus 8.1 per game) and No. 9 in steals per game (13.5).
"The first couple of scrimmages we weren't guarding anybody, and I thought, 'This is going to be a long year,' " said Grenek, a Butler High School graduate who was Seton Hill University's associate women's head coach the past two seasons and at the Greensburg school for five years. Before that, he was the men's coach at Butler County Community College for five years.
What happened is that the Point Park players bought into Grenek's system, especially after the win against Carnegie Mellon. These days, the Pioneers take pride in their defensive ability.
Only one team has scored more than 55 points against Point Park during the winning streak, and that was Penn State Fayette in an 84-71 non-conference loss to the Pioneers.
"I figured we'd struggle offensively with Ashley Henderson gone," said Grenek, referring to the graduated Henderson, who averaged 17.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last season.
"We did have April Austin back at the point, and that was a plus. I figured we'd have to get four or five players averaging eight or nine points a game and play good defense if we were going to be successful."
Austin, a 5-foot-6 junior from Penn Hills who played at North Catholic High School, is the Pioneers leading scorer at 11.2 points per game. She also has 48 steals.
Joncelyn Peterkin , a 6-2 senior from West Mifflin who transferred from Carlow, is next at 9.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Kristen Beatty , a 5-7 senior from North Allegheny High School and the Community College of Allegheny County, is at 8.5 ppg with 38 steals.
Katresa Savisky , a 5-9 sophomore transfer from Butler County Community College, is averaging 7.4 ppg and Ringgold High graduate and New Jersey Institute of Technology transfer Emily Schartner , a 5-11 junior, is averaging 7.1 ppg. Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Kristen Veseleny , a 5-8 senior, has been a part-time starter and averages 5.2 ppg.
Grenek said Savisky is the team's top defensive player and that freshman Haley Sauer , a 5-8 guard from Shaler, and junior Maeve Gallagher , a 5-9 forward from Perry Traditional Academy, have played valuable minutes.
"There have been games when we've used 10, 12 players," Grenek said. "We have great senior leadership."
The Pioneers have employed a half-court, man-to-man defense along with a 2-3 zone that is similar to what the Syracuse men's team uses. They also go to a full-court press after dead balls and made baskets.
Grenek said Point Park is aided by the 30-second shot clock in the women's college game.
"If we force an opponent to chew up 12 or 13 seconds getting the ball up the court, that doesn't leave them much time to run a half-court offense," he said.
Grenek realizes he fell into a good situation at Point Park. The Pioneers had winning records the past two years under coach Sam Kosanovich , who stepped down after last season to devote his full attention to his duties as Point Park's Student Center director.
Considering the confidence Point Park is playing with now, Grenek doesn't see why the Pioneers can't make some noise in the AMC tournament and perhaps the NAIA playoffs.
"I hope so," he said. "If we get a little better offensively, I think that's possible."
The Edinboro University women's basketball team, ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, set a school record this past week when it defeated No. 18 IUP, 71-45, in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. The win raised Edinboro's record to 15-0 and 11-0 in the PSAC. The 15 consecutive victories bettered the former record of 14 set in the 1989-90 season. The Fighting Scots, one of two undefeated Division II teams, will play Saturday at Slippery Rock.
California University of Pennsylvania senior forward Amy Johns , a McKeesport High School graduate, scored her 1,000th career point in a recent, 72-63 victory against Gannon. She is No. 21 on the Vulcans' all-time scoring list (1,034 points) heading into the game Saturday when California (10-5, 7-4 PSAC) will visit Lock Haven.
The West Liberty University men's basketball team is at it again. After 16 games, the Hilltoppers are averaging 100.9 points a game. They defeated Seton Hill, 106-76, this past week to raise their record to 15-1 and 10-0 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. West Liberty, ranked No. 3 in Division II in the country, has topped 100 points in seven games and 90 points in four others.
Helping the Hilltoppers is 6-4 freshman guard C.J. Hester , a West Mifflin High School graduate. Hester has started 12 of 16 games and is averaging 11.9 points a game. He had eight points and team-high 13 rebounds in the victory against Seton Hill.