The Marauders know that about Morella, their first-year coach, and don't want to disappoint.
"Coach Pat brings intensity," senior guard Allie Rolsing said. "He's great. He lifts everyone up. Coach Pat is getting us pumped up for the season."
Sophomore point guard Morgan Torstenson fondly referred to Morella as "a little crazy."
"He's so enthusiastic and he'll motivate us," Torstenson said. "Coach Pat wants us to be better. Everyone thinks they can win when they play against Mount Olive basketball. We're going to change that. We want to get that reputation out of other teams' heads. We're happy to play for Coach Pat. What's also good about him is you can always go to him to cheer you up."
Morella's impact was evident on the first day of practice for the 2011-12 season. There was an abundance of enthusiasm as the varsity and JV girls did drills under the direction of Morella and assistant coach Jessica Trotter during a three-hour session.
Senior forward Brianna Zazzaro, a three-year starter, is a big fan of Morella's. Like most people, Zazzaro relishes continuity and wasn't finding that in Mount Olive basketball. Morella is her third coach in three seasons. He's the one she hopes will enjoy a long successful run.
"I'm very excited," Zazzaro said. "Coach Pat is a new coach who can turn the program around. He brings a different approach. He has a lot of energy and pride. It was hard having to prove yourself over and over again. You had to fight for your spot and keep showing you deserve to be there."
Earning a spot still will be a challenge but, as the former freshman coach, Morella is familiar with the majority of the girls in the program and their abilities.
"We have a really, really good group," Morella said. "I hope to get them on track and get them competing. Getting blown out by 30 or 40 points kills motivation. We play in a tough division and I want them to be in the games. I want the girls to love basketball again."
Last winter, the Marauders went 5-17 and struggled mightily against the likes of Randolph, High Point, Pope John, Sparta, Jefferson and Morris Knolls. Maybe wins against those teams aren't within reach yet but Morella intends to significantly close the gap and perhaps surprise a few opponents.
Morella, who played football, basketball and baseball at Jefferson High School before graduating in 1996, seems to be the perfect person to accomplish that. An all-group running back for the Falcons, Morella was headed to Valparaiso University to play football when his father, Patrick Jr., was diagnosed with cancer and told he had three months to live. Morella didn't go to Valparaiso, staying home to run his family's restaurant, The Valley Roost, on Berkshire Valley Road. He did so for six years before turning his attention to other businesses and attending Sussex Community College, where he was a member of the basketball team.
"We lived above the restaurant so I was always doing something," he said. "I took my first pizza out of the oven when I was 7 years old. There are long hours and a lot of work in having a business."
He's applying what he's learned from being an entrepreneur to coaching.
"Coaching sports is like running a business," Morello said. "It's all about how you talk to your players, how you treat them."
The program, no doubt, benefited in the summer when many of the girls played AAU ball for Marauder Pride. It's the first AAU team to be affiliated with the school. Parents Pat Zazzaro, Lisa Pignataro and Bob Rolsing had much to do with getting the program off the ground. Mount Olive, too, participated in the Crossroads Fall League at Dream Field in Sparta.
"Having the AAU team gave us more experience," Brianna Zazzaro said. "The girls who didn't know what varsity would be like got a taste of it. That's what we needed to do. You have to put the time in and face better competition.
The presence of Trotter, a Mount Olive graduate, is another huge plus. The 6-foot-5 Trotter played at Edinboro University and is always willing to engage in drills, just like she did on Monday.
"We look up to Jess. She inspires us," Zazzaro said. "She's serious but also can have the personality of a kid our age. Jess is an inspiration."
Mount Olive will employ a dribble-drive motion offense and a 1-3-1 defense. The Marauders don't have height but they have speed. More importantly, they possess the right chemistry. Morella reminds them often about teamwork and that "heart beats talent any day."
"There was some arguing among us last year," Torstenson said. "That's over with. We're going to come together. We have the spirit and we'll keep the pride going."
"We've improved and become a unit," said Rolsing, putting her hands up and locking her fingers in front of her to emphasize the unity. "We're all close and we really like our coaches."
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