When Luann Mills took over the Jeannette High School girls' basketball program three years ago, she was taking over a group that had just won the WPIAL Class AA championship and featured sophomore sensation Ciara Gregory, a proven scorer.
Mills saw the talent in her team and the talent and scoring potential in Gregory, but she had other impressions, too.
"When I met her, I knew she was too weak," Mills said.
Mills played collegiate basketball. She knew Gregory could likely have success on the high school level, but if she wanted to dominate and have collegiate aspirations, she was going to have to hit the weights.
"I played college basketball, I have been to the [Division II] Final Four, I know what the players look like," Mills said. "You cannot play Division I ball if you don't lift weights."
Mills was a Division II All-American at Pitt-Johnstown.
Gregory started putting in hours and hours of work both in the gym and in the weight room with trainer Shelly Werner.
Gregory morphed from a freshman who averaged 15 points per game into a legitimate collegiate prospect, the leading scorer in the WPIAL her junior and senior seasons and the leading scorer in Jeannette girls' basketball history.
Gregory's career wrapped up Friday night after a 51-34 loss to General McLane in the first round of the PIAA Class AA tournament. Jeannette finished the season 17-8 overall, winning a Class AA Section 3 title and reaching the WPIAL semifinals.
Gregory finished her career with a game-high 19 points and 2,130 career points.
As a junior she averaged 27 points per game. This year as a senior she averaged 30.8 points per game for the regular season. In the playoffs she was even more prolific. She scored 41 in a first-round win against Steel Valley and she scored 35 in a quarterfinal win over Deer Lakes. In the WPIAL semifinals loss to Seton-LaSalle she scored 27 of her team's 38 points.
"When she was a sophomore, she couldn't finish things," Mills recalled. "She was good, but each year she has gotten a little better. She is finishing and now she is able to attack against the better players. She could always attack the weak ones but now she has brought her game to another level."
For Jeannette, however, it was not all about Gregory. The Jayhawks had a strong defense as well.
The team and the coaches had a heart-to-heart chat after a disappointing loss at Riverview. Defensively, Jeannette made a commitment to close out the season with intense man-to-man defense.
Now Gregory will advance to the Atlantic 10. In August she committed to play at Charlotte.
Mills went through a similar recruitment process as Gregory. She was a 1980 Jeannette High School graduate.
"It was a lot of fun for me just seeing Ciara develop and become so well-rounded," Mills said. "She works so hard, you have to know that. She never stops.
A year after a first-round exit in the WPIAL playoffs, the Jayhawks got to experience a special run to the WPIAL semifinals.
"We did it a few years ago and it is very special," Mills said. "It was special for Ciara, too. She brought this group together, she is the leader of this group but what she always says is she can't do it without them. She is honest about that. Ciara is just a phenomenal player, she makes the players around her better."hsbasketball