MARS — Bella Pelaia awoke recently with a large weight lifted off her shoulders.
The incoming senior on the Mars girls basketball team had made a decision that would shape the next five years of her life.
“It's definitely a relief,” she said.
Pelaia had been torn.
Both Mount St. Mary's University and Western Carolina University had plenty of positives for the versatile guard/forward.
Ultimately, though, distance was the tiebreaker and Pelaia chose Mount St. Mary's, located just over the Pennsylvania border in Emmitsburg, Md.
She committed to the school June 28.
“When I visited Mount St. Mary's (June 8), I knew I really liked it,” Pelaia said. “I didn't want to stay close to home, but I didn't want to go far away from home either. It's only about three and a half hours away and I have family that lives only 20 minutes away. That was the biggest factor. Both schools had what I wanted academically and athletically.”
Pelaia averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game last season as a junior for the Planets.
As a sophomore, she was a key member of Mars' state championship team.
Pelaia is the third Mars girls basketball player in the last three years to commit to a Division I program.
Lauren Wasylson is currently a guard at Xavier University and recent graduate Tai Johnson will attend Bucknell University in the fall.
“I took so much away from just watching how hard Lauren and Tai worked to be the players that they were,” Pelaia said. “So to be able to follow them and be able to compete in college means a lot to me.”
Pelaia is just 150 points shy of 1,000 in her career.
Mount St. Mary's recruited Pelaia because of her ability to play anywhere on the floor.
“Basically they told me they were looking for a lot of positionless players,” Pelaia said. “That's what they called me. They liked that I could handle the ball, shoot and play the post.”
Those skills have come to Pelaia by no accident.
She works on all aspects of her game religiously, shooting from the outside and from short-range, driving to the hoop, handling the ball and honing her moves in the post.
“I'll work on driving to the hoop with my dad,” Pelaia said. “He'll try to guard me. He'll have one of those pads and he'll hit me with it.”
Pelaia also prides herself on the ability to beat the opponent in front of her with her diverse set of skills.
“It's really cool being able to play guard or forward,” Pelaia said. “When I play against someone short, I can take them to the post. When I play against a player who doesn't move well, I can drive around them.”
With her decision made, Pelaia can now enjoy the end of her AAU season and her senior campaign at Mars without the specter of the college decision hanging over her.
“It's nice to be able to play without being super stressed about people watching me,” Pelaia said. “It'll be nice going to these tournaments and just playing and helping my team.”