North/West Xtra: Point Park off to strong start despite injuries

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If time truly does heal, the rest of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference could be in for some trouble.

Despite using seven different lineups in its first nine games due to injuries and illness, the Point Park women's basketball team is off to an 11-0 start, is in first place in the KIAC standings at 2-0 and ranked No. 21 in NAIA Division II.

After tonight's game against Mt. Vernon Nazarene, the Pioneers have off until Jan. 4 for their holiday break, giving the team plenty of time to heal, get healthy and get even better.

"All the injuries have given other kids opportunities to play quality minutes," coach Tony Grenek said. "We're just finding ways to win right now and hopefully it's going to help us down the road to be a better team.

"The good thing is the depth has really helped us because if these injuries would have happened last year, we might not have had enough players to put on the floor."

The Pioneers returned three starters from last season and all three have missed games this season.

All-conference selection Ja'Nia McPhatter, a 5-foot-9 junior forward, was Point Park's leading scorer and rebounder last season and has yet to play this season. A transfer from La Roche, McPhatter injured an ankle in the first two minutes of the first scrimmage and may receive a medical redshirt if she is unable to return after the break.

Katresa Savisky of Butler, a 5-foot-9 senior, is also a returning starter and she missed four games earlier this season due to a concussion. She has returned to the lineup and, along with 5-6 senior Teresa Davis, the third returning starter who missed some time this season with a double-ear infection, gives the Pioneers a formidable defensive shutdown combination.

"I've coached men collegiately and I've coached women collegiately. Katresa Savisky and Teresa Davis are honestly the two toughest kids I've ever coached," Grenek said. "You don't get tougher than those two. They love to compete, they love to play defense, they play with such high energy.

"I've coached more talented players and maybe better basketball players, but I've never coached two kids who have worked harder than those two. They really put the blue-collar stamp on our program. When you're playing Point Park, chances are your two best players are going to run into Katresa Savisky and Teresa Davis."

Savisky, who has played everywhere from the point to the center position in the lineup, is the second-leading scorer at 11.1 points per game, is averaging 6 rebounds and is shooting a second-best .525 percentage (31 for 59) from the field in seven games played.

Savisky's injury opened the door for Sam Weir to step into a starting role. A 6-0 freshman, Weir transferred from Seton Hill where she did not play in any games last season. An Ellwood City resident, Weir graduated from Riverside in 2011-12 after leading the Panthers to three WPIAL section championships.

"Weir is strong with a big post-player body but is very nimble on her feet," said Grenek, in his third season at Point Park. "What's great about her, offensively she keeps the ball high and always gets herself in good position to lay the ball in. She also has a very soft touch so if you foul her she's going to put her foul shots in. She's also capable of making a 15-foot shot as well.

"What I have been really impressed with is once she gets in game mode, she's really doing a great job for us on the offensive rebounds. She's cleaning up a lot of our misses. On the defensive end, she's a terrific rebounder and has been staying out of foul trouble. She's also one of the leaders in the nation in blocked shots."

Weir is averaging 15.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds and has 37 blocks, which ties her for fourth in NAIA Division II. In a key matchup against conference co-favorite Alice Lloyd Dec. 7, Weir had 31 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks to help the Pioneers to a big 91-84 victory. Her efforts landed her KIAC basketball player of the week.

"That was a huge win because it sort of took the monkey off our back," Grenek said. "We've never beaten them before. You look at them and they have the leading scorer and leading rebounder in NAIA basketball [Ariel Nickell].

"At one point we were up 18 points but then they cut it to five and, as a coach, you get worried that the kids are going to lose confidence and give the game away. But we fought through it, made a couple more runs and held on for the win."

Freshman guard Celina DiPietro, who played on last year's PIAA Class AA champion Bishop Canevin team, started eight games for the Pioneers but recently went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is likely out for the season. She missed her first game against Alice Lloyd and was replaced in the lineup by 5-6 sophomore guard Alexa Xenakis, a Keystone Oaks graduate.

Rounding out the starting lineup is 5-9 point guard Kayla Kiriau, a transfer from Sheridan (Wyo.) College, and 5-10 freshman forward Carly Forse, who also played on the championship Bishop Canevin team. Forse, who resides on Mount Washington, is the only player to start every game for the Pioneers and is averaging 9.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and has 28 steals.

"Weir and Carly Forse are a dynamite four-five combination and what's really scary is they are only freshmen," Grenek said.

It's even scarier to imagine the Pioneers after a having a little time off to heal.

"We just need to keep getting better as a basketball team," Grenek said. "We need to see where we stand at the end of the Christmas break. Is Ja'Nia going to be able to come back? We really just think about what's our next challenge.

"They don't have that mental focus yet. Having so many young kids, throwing so many different sets at them maybe offensively it has taken some time for the young kids to pick things up. I think as the year goes on the younger kids are going to be able to hone in with their focus and pick up our concepts. Really the sky is the limit for them."

Rick Davis: or 412-263-3789.

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