West Xtra: Coaching stability is helping Carlynton succeed

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Coaching consistency has been one of the biggest reasons for the consistency on the court this year for the Carlynton High School girls basketball team.

The Cougars have witnessed six coaching changes in eight seasons. The 2013 graduating class had four coaches in four years.

This season, coach Tim Bonner is back for the second year of his second stint. He previously coached at the school in 2004-05.

Last year the program began to turn the corner, winning 13 games, including a WPIAL playoff game. It was the first playoff appearance in eight years for the Carlynton girls.

"That was really huge for us," Bonner said. "We won a playoff game and the girls got a little taste of it and it really helps with the continuity. It is the first time in a while the girls had the same coach."

With Bonner and the rest of the coaching staff returning, the returning starters had a stable offseason with routine open gyms and playing in summer leagues, something that had been absent in the past. The smooth transition from a successful 2012-13 season to offseason and into this season has generated momentum for the Cougars.

Carlynton is 12-3 overall through 15 games. Following an important section victory Monday night at Avonworth, the Cougars are 7-1 in Class AA Section 6, tied with Beaver Area for the lead.

The team has met plenty of adversity this season. Six games into the season it lost one of its top players for the year, 5-foot-8 senior guard Hannah Murray. An injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee cost Murray most of her senior season.

The very next night after losing Murray, Carlynton had to play Ringgold, a Class AAA team, and the Cougars dropped a one-point game, 42-41.

Three days later Carlynton was on its way to Cincinnati to participate in a holiday tournament where it defeated Westerville Central (Ohio), 44-40, but lost to Grandview Heights (Ohio), 38-36, at the buzzer.

Carlynton would also lose Jordan Melko, a 5-9 starting junior forward, for three games after she sustained a concussion.

"It has been kind of an interesting year to put it mildly," Bonner said. "We lost Hannah and went through a transition period. We lost two games at the buzzer right after we lost our starting 'two' guard but we rebounded a little bit and a couple freshmen stepped up and a couple other people stepped up and really solidified us there,"

While few teams are prepared for a season-ending injury to a starter, Carlynton is a team with the ability to adjust. The Cougars played all of last year without point guard Conor Richardson, the team's leading scorer this season. Richardson is back in the starting lineup this season.

Richardson is one of the leading scorers in the WPIAL. Through 13 games she was averaging 20.5 points per game.

"We try to move her around," Bonner said. "She handles the ball a lot. She is such a dual threat, a really good defensive player and a great offensive player.

"She is excellent in the open court and really knows how to fill the lanes and feed her teammates. She gets to the hoop really well and she is our main outside threat. She can do it all, she really can. We are very fortunate to have her."

Melko has also returned. The other starters are 5-9 senior forward Jazmyn Meredith, 5-10 sophomore center Abigail Greiner and 5-1 freshman guard Ashleigh Wilson. Wilson moved into the lineup to replace Murray after the injury leaving Meredith as the only healthy senior on the roster.

Another freshman, 5-6 guard Alexis Kowal is the first backcourt player off the bench and 5-8 sophomore Mackenzie Mangum is the first forward off the bench. Abby Diulus, a 5-6 sophomore, is currently battling a back injury but when she is healthy, she gives Carylnton an eight-player rotation.

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