Coaching the youngest team she has seen in her six years at North Allegheny, Sherri McConnell knew there were going to be ups and downs this December.
And so far -- fortunately for the Tigers -- the "ups" have occurred more frequently than the "downs."
There were convincing non-section victories against McDowell, 56-24, and Norwin, 47-38. There was a section-opening 74-30 thumping of Seneca Valley and a close loss at home against perennial power Mt. Lebanon, 34-30.
The Oakland Catholic game last week saw both ups and downs.
The Tigers were held to five points in the first quarter but stormed back for 16 in the second to build a 21-10 halftime lead. But they were held to five points once again in the third quarter but still led 26-19 going to the fourth quarter.
Then inexperience reared its ugly head as host Oakland Catholic stormed back to win, 38-34.
"We are very inexperienced and very young, and you are going to go through the ups and downs," McConnell said. "I like the way the kids have responded. As far as teaching, they have been very responsive."
Through it all, it is tough to ignore the promise of this team. There is only one senior on the roster, starting point guard Maddie Mellis.
Freshman guard Abby Gonzales and freshman forward Taylor Lake are two of the top ninth-graders in the WPIAL. Junior Taylor Brennan, who comes off the bench, scored 12 points per game last season and is the younger sister of former North Allegheny standout Kelly Brennan.
"Taylor scores, that is what she likes to do, she is a scorer," McConnell said. "She can score in a lot of different ways."
She scored 13 in the win against Seneca Valley on three of four shooting from 3-point range.
Taylor Brennan plays as a shooting guard while her older sister, Kelly, played as a point guard during her career at North Allegheny where she topped 1,000 career points.
Sophomore guard Dewin LaBarge and sophomore forward Meg Morningstar are two other young starters with plenty of promise. LaBarge scored 14 in a win against McDowell. Morningstar had nine in the win against Seneca Valley.
North Allegheny returned no starters and only three players from last season who dressed on varsity.
"We have seen a lot of positives," McConnell said. "It is encouraging but we have to understand they are young. We have done a lot of teaching early on and we have been very slow with what we have put in.
"At this point in the season we have a lot less in than we have had in other seasons. This is a group that really wants to learn, they want to get better. We have been very pleased with how they have responded to the different challenges."
The Tigers (4-2, 2-1) rebounded Friday to defeat Butler Area, 54-34. They are tied with Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland for the section lead.
North Allegheny has reached the playoffs five consecutive seasons. It has finished second or third in Section 3-AAAA the past five seasons as well. Even with the young roster, the postseason is still attainable for this group.
The play of the freshmen has been the story thus far. Lake leads the team in rebounding. Gonzales leads the team in steals. Lake scored 15 in the victory against Seneca Valley and had 12 points off the bench in the loss to Oakland Catholic on Monday. Gonzales scored 10 against McDowell.
"Abby and Taylor have gotten off to a great start for us," McConnell said. "Abby is a solid all-around guard. I didn't expect them to contribute as much as this so far. I knew they were solid players, but it is a very pleasant surprise."
North Allegheny will be the host team for a holiday tournament starting today when it plays Plum at 3:30 p.m. North Catholic and Penn-Trafford are also playing in the tournament.