West Xtra: The arrow is pointing up for Moon girls team

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In terms of section standings, the first four games of Moon Area's regular season did not represent anything in regard to playoff contention.

To coach Doug Saklad, the first four non-section games of the 2013-14 season represented a lot more.

The Tigers winning their tip-off tournament title against West Allegheny and Canon-McMillan along with a 57-50 victory at Peters Township and playing competitively against North Allegheny, the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked team in Class AAAA, before losing, 65-50, represented the program turning the corner.

"We definitely have made the turn," Saklad said.

When Saklad took over in 2011, Moon was coming off a winless season. Two years ago they finished 4-18 and last season the Tigers finished 9-13.

"I took the job because of the challenge," Saklad said. "I was pretty confident that I could rebuild it. It has been a process.

"Winning the tip-off tournament was our first goal and seeing how we stacked up against NA was our second goal, I was pretty pleased."

Moon actually led North Allegheny late in the first half. The Tigers also overcame a 15 of 35 shooting performance from the free-throw line to defeat Peters Township.

The Tigers won their opening game in section play last week, easily defeating neighboring rival Montour, 58-27, but lost a 49-42 decision to Trinity in another Section 5-AAA game.

Moon (5-2, 1-1) rebounded to defeat North Hills Monday in a non-section game on the Indians' floor.

"We are exactly where I had hoped we would be," Saklad said. "Two things that are different with this team, than ones I had in the past are depth and I have several kids who are great ballhandlers now."

Against North Allegheny, Saklad was able to play 11 players.

"Playing 11 players is phenomenal," Saklad said. "I didn't think I would be able to go that deep. The last two years we only used six or seven players [most of the time]."

Amirah Moore, a 5-foot-8 senior point guard, is the top player on the team. She averaged 15.9 points per game last season. Moore has received interest from several colleges, including Wheeling Jesuit, Washington & Jefferson, Carnegie Mellon and Drexel.

"She is a very good take-it-to-the-basket player," Saklad said. "Her ballhandling skills more than anything else make her the MVP of the team."

The Tigers have been bolstered by the addition of a number of other ballhandlers, including multiple freshmen.

The other returning starters are 6-1 junior center Abby Unis and 5-7 senior guard Kirstin Gondol. Gondol has scored 18 points in two separate games and in a 43-41 win against Canon-McMillan she had a steal and a layup at the buzzer to win the game.

Maddy O'Shea, a 5-10 junior forward, and 5-9 junior guard Juhi Goyal also start. Tara Balach, a 5-5 junior guard, and 6-1 sophomore forward Megan Toomer are two of the first players off the bench.

"Tara Balach is firecracker coming off the bench," Saklad said.

Toomer has rejoined the team after taking two years off from basketball following a back injury.

"She just got medically cleared and she is getting back into playing shape," Saklad said. "She is going to be a very good player."

Deaja Quick, a 5-7 freshman point guard, transferred into the school district from Carrick.

"She has really helped us a lot," Saklad said. "She handles the point at times."

Freshmen Izzy Engel and Annie Bal also seeing playing time. Saklad describes Engel, 5-6, as a true point guard always looking for an assist and says Bal, 5-10, has the best court sense on the team.

"I came into the season thinking we could be a second-, third- or fourth-place team in the section," Saklad said. "Now we think we are a second-place team in that section. But really we have one goal -- it is getting to the [WPIAL] playoffs."

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