McNabb's first season deemed a success
Knoch junior point guard Austin Miller described his team's approach to its WPIAL preliminary-round playoff game with Mt. Pleasant as “business as usual.”
But the game meant more than that to the program. The Knights had not won a playoff game since 2006 and were riding on the heels of six consecutive losing seasons.
“We wanted to do something,” Miller said. “We're a football school, but we wanted to make a name for the basketball team.”
First-year coach Ron McNabb echoed Miller's sentiment.
“They'd heard a lot, read a lot, that Knoch hadn't won a playoff game in seven years,” McNabb said. “I don't think they took it personally, but they took it as a challenge.”
From his perspective, the team took the entire season as a challenge.
McNabb, 51, who coached at Burrell and Valley before serving as an assistant the past two years at Plum, was hired on July 11 to replace Josh Shoop, who filled the athletic director vacancy at Pine-Richland.
It was an atypically late time of the year to hire a new basketball coach.
“I was completely sold on the fact that I was going back to Plum,” McNabb said.
A math instructor at Knoch for the past 25 years, McNabb estimates he missed approximately five months of off-season preparation due to his late appointment. That meant having to sacrifice strategy sessions to focus on skills — like ball-handling and shooting — and amping up the intensity to make up for time lost.
“‘I'm not going to lie, (the practices) were hard,” said senior forward Dakota Bruggeman.
“But they weren't impossible to get through.”
By the team's second practice, Bruggeman said, McNabb had gained the players' trust, and they began to see results.
“If Coach McNabb came up to you and tried facing your shot, if you did what he said, it would go in,” Bruggeman said.
After that relatively brief summer introduction, McNabb said there wasn't a tangible goal attached to the Knights' season, just an intent to maximize the team's potential.
“One thing we never did mention was wins or losses,” he said. “We said we want to be the hardest working team that we can — and they did. They came in and worked hard for us.”
After some middling early-season results, the Knights hit their stride around Christmas, winning five in a row and taking the Freeport Tournament.
Players such as Miller (10.6 ppg) and senior forward Marc Vaughn (11.6 ppg) were key cogs in the Knights' offense. But the team's real strength came through a defense that surrendered 51.4 points per game.
The Knights traded wins and losses before finishing the regular season at 11-11 and, defying the expectations of some, secured a playoff berth by finishing in fourth place in Section 1-AAA.
Which led to the match-up with Mt. Pleasant.
“I didn't see a lot of nervousness in the locker room,” McNabb said. “But I did see a lot of intense kids.”
Knoch won 62-50, breaking the streak.
“I almost lost my voice celebrating,” Bruggeman said. “It was great to bring a win back to Knoch basketball by playing great defense. That was the great thing, we just clicked. We did what we could do and played hard defense.”
Knoch fell to top-seeded Chartiers Valley in the next round, but that didn't matter, Miller said. The season was a success.
“I'm still proud of our first playoff win,” he said.
“Next season, I feel like we can now compete for the section title and make a long run into the playoffs.”
Stephen Catanese is a freelance writer.