East Xtra: Mount Pleasant sister act a real hit

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Talk about a modern family ... on the Mount Pleasant girls varsity basketball team, there are four pairs of sisters.

That's eight girls in sister pairs out of the Vikings' 15-player roster. The result is a close, balanced team.

The balance rang true in the Vikings' first holiday tournament game on Dec. 27 against North Hills. Mount Pleasant beat North Hills with defense; a man-to-man approach with added speed and aggression. Mount Pleasant had drilled for this doing "Super 17s" -- sideline-spanning sprints while dribbling right- and left-handed. As a team, the Vikings had honed their coordination and conditioning.

"Against the Indians, you have to have some endurance and mental toughness to be able to continue to do the job we expect on the floor," said Mount Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi. Sure enough, the Vikings defeated North Hills that night, 40-26.

So, who are the sister pairs of Mount Pleasant basketball and how do they balance the team? Junior Dakotah Biller and freshman Katie Biller are forwards, while junior Elaina Fearer and freshman Ashley Fearer are both guards. Sophomore Brooke Kalp is a forward and her freshman sister, Alyssa, plays guard. Lastly, senior forward Jena Szelong is joined by her sophomore sister, Alexa, at guard. The pairs balance the team in many ways, but one of the most interesting ways is on offense.

Mount Pleasant doesn't have a consistent leading scorer; the starters all score relatively evenly. As of last Friday, Alexa Szelong was scoring 9.8 points per game and Jena was at 5.1. Elaina Fearer was averaging 6.7 points per game.

The other two starters (who do not currently have sisters on the Mount Pleasant basketball team) are Casey Zelenak and Jordan Toohey. Zelenak was scoring 6.7 points per game and Toohey was at 5.6.

The bottom line is that the sisters' balance extends to the team.

"In a game, I'd like to think that it makes us all closer at times," Giacobbi said. "Over the last couple of games, there have been different leading scorers every time."

Giacobbi elaborated. In a game last Thursday, the leading scorers were Elaina Fearer and Zelenak. On Dec. 28 against New Castle, it was Alexa Szelong who led the team in scoring.

"Before that, it was Jena Szelong," Giacobbi said. "There's a lot of balance there, it's not weighted toward any one player."

Giacobbi did give a couple of defensive nods. As of Friday, Alexa Szelong averaged 2.7 steals per game and Casey Zelenak averaged 6.3 rebounds. But, for the most part, Giacobbi noted that Mount Pleasant's defense was a team-wide effort. At the time, the Vikings were holding opponents to an average of 38.8 points per game.

Zelenak, a senior forward, does not have a sister currently playing for Mount Pleasant. But her two older sisters, Keri and Carly, played for Mount Pleasant prior to their graduation. Although Keri and Carly now play for Westmorelamnd County Community College and Chatham, respectively, they each make visits to Mount Pleasant to work with Casey and the team.

"I'm hopeful that what we've done is create situations where the oldest sister of a group gets an interest in basketball that began in our program -- and that she's enjoyed it enough that her love of the sport gets communicated to her younger sister," Giacobbi said.

The Mount Pleasant team hopes to fuel its future with legacies, sisters and friends.

Mount Pleasant's schedule includes a matchup tonight against Section 3-AAA power Uniontown. But Giacobbi had a good feeling about the Vikings' good-natured sorority.

"On the floor, you can notice instances where players are looking out for each other and have some positive connection," he said. "[The sisterhood] does make us a little tighter knit in terms of our overall team connection."



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