ADAMS TWP — Before her freshman season began, Bella Pelaia had an important decision to make.
“It was the first day of practice that year,” recalled Mars girls basketball coach Dana Petruska. “I had coached Bella the year before on the eighth-grade team and she was a guard, but we needed a forward on varsity and Bella had decent size. I told her, 'I need someone to play inside.'”
Pelaia, now a senior, replied that she was a guard and that's where she would be comfortable playing at the varsity level.
By the next day, however, she had a change of heart.
“She came to me and said, 'I'll do whatever it takes,'” added Petruska. “It's hard to play with your back to the basket, but she was willing to do what was good for the team.”
“I remember that conversation vividly,” said Pelaia. “I started playing basketball when I was in first grade and was always a guard, but I just wanted to play (varsity).”
Play she has and very well at that.
Pelaia recently became the newest member of Mars' 1,000-point club, reaching the milestone during a road victory at Franklin Regional Jan. 2. She will enter Monday's home game against Gateway with 1,075 career points.
“I played with Tai (Johnson) and Lauren (Wasylson), watched them get to 1,000 and I learned a lot from them,” said Pelaia. “It means a lot to join them and it's exciting for me to know that my hard work is paying off.”
Pelaia started as a freshman and contributed much to the Planets as an underclassman, particularly during her sophomore year. She averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game that season, but also led Mars with 14 points in the team's 36-33 victory over Archbishop Wood in the state championship game.
Her production, however, has jumped considerably since then. Last season, Pelaia posted 14 points and nine boards and is averaging a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds per contest this season.
“She's become a good ball-handler and she knows when to stay inside and when to come out,” said Petruska.
Much of her improvement is due to the amount of her own time Pelaia dedicates to getting better.
Her father, David, has converted the family's basement into a weight room.
“Every week, I spend 10 hours, maybe more, lifting weights,” Pelaia said. “My dad and I go to the gym and I put up a ton of shots. He's always been there working with me and he's helped me finish at the basket with contact.
“I can now go up with a shot in the post or with a drive.”
And stepping back to sink a trey is still part of her game, sweetening the pot for her college of choice, Mount St. Mary's in Maryland, where she will receive a scholarship.
Pelaia is the lone senior on this year's team. That may add unwanted pressure for some players, but Pelaia welcomes the role.
“I'm close with all of my teammates,” she said. “It's neat that the younger players can trust me. It's important that we are comfortable with each other and that translates to the court.”
“She treats the underclassmen as her equal,” said Petruska. “She knows that she needs them just like they need her. She has turned into a leader.”