The records couldn’t scare off Janine Vertacnik.
Three wins in 2016.
Winless in 2017.
Three wins in 2018.
Vertacnik, a longtime coach at several schools in the WPIAL, wouldn’t let the number of wins or losses by the Monessen High School girls basketball program stop her from accepting the Greyhounds’ head coaching job in May of 2018.
“Let’s just say I always like a challenge,” Vertacnik said.
Everywhere she has gone it’s been a challenge. From starting at her alma mater, Yough, after four starters had graduated, to moving to the college ranks and beginning the Pitt-Greensburg women’s basketball program, to rejuvenating Jeannette into a WPIAL champion and turning around Greensburg Salem during her tenure, Vertacnik has been a winner.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, I go with the intention of trying to rebuild a program,” Vertacnik said. “I don’t try to look for openings for programs that are already winning. I don’t know why, that’s just how I am.”
Winning, and a lot of it, used to be associated when mentioning Monessen girls basketball. The Greyhounds made the playoffs for 25 consecutive years prior to 2015. From 2000 to 2012, they finished with 20-plus wins nine times. In that same time, no season concluded with fewer than 17 victories. They were three-time WPIAL champions and the 2004 state champions.
But the Greyhounds’ fall from grace came without a parachute.
Until this season.
The five long years of waiting for a playoff berth is over. Monessen is not only postseason bound in Class A, it’s win total (15) eclipses the total number of wins in the four previous years combined.
“It’s defense,” Vertacnik said, “and being defensive-minded. When you inherit bad or weak teams, you have to start with defense. If you can play defense, play hard and rebound, you will be in every game. You might not win them but you will be in them.”
The Greyhounds emergence on offense this season has turned close victories into blowout ones. After Monday night’s win over Greensburg Central Catholic, when Monessen has scored at least 40 points it is a 12-0. The offensive is led by senior forward Qitarah Hardison, who averages 12.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, and sophomore guard Kendelle Weston, who is averaging just over 12 points. A double-double machine, Hardison entered Monday night’s regular-season finale nine rebounds shy of 1,000 for her career.
The blend of young and old players hungry for a postseason berth is why Vertacnik believes this group has found success.
“When I came in 2018, there was a solid group of eighth graders coming up and I inherited three juniors,” Vertacnik said. “The younger kids didn’t know about that losing and the older ones had battled through those tough years. But they all bought in with what I was trying to do for them. They see the passion I have. I don’t care what they were before. We don’t care about the past. We talk about today and tomorrow.”
Later today, Monessen will know its opponent in its first playoff game since 2014. The WPIAL will release all boys and girls basketball brackets at 7 p.m. during a pairings meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree.
Just as she had done for 29 years as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service in West Newton, and time after time again as a basketball coach, Vertacnik is delivering.
“What an accomplishment for a team that won three games the season before I got here,” Vertacnik said proudly. “I love to watch growth. They have learned but are still improving. We are trying to do things to ease them in. I’ve also pushed them and shown them what could be done. They have been the ones to do it.”