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Young head coach takes over experienced Blairsville team

| Friday, Nov. 21, 2008

BLAIRSVILLE -- Most 23-year-olds who just graduated college are most concerned with finding a way to pay off their student loans.

After being hired as a science teacher at Blairsville Middle School, Joe Intrieri should have that covered.

Instead, Intrieri has volunteered for a whole different challenge -- turning the Blairsville Bobcats boys' varsity basketball team back into a District 6 power.

Just six months after graduating from Clarion University in May, Intrieri was hired November 7 to take over a Bobcat team that has the talent to challenge for a Heritage Conference championship.

The Bobcats had a bit of a down year last season, finishing at 12-11 overall and bowing out in the first round of the District 6 Class AA playoffs. Blairsville had reached three consecutive district championship games before last year.

"Whenever you have a program that's been successful, the expectations are high," Intrieri said. "We have a lot of seniors on this team. I want them to go out on a high note and good memories."

While Intrieri is young for a a varsity head coach, that doesn't mean he's not experienced in the game.

Basketball was always a part of his life because his father, Sam, was the head coach at Kiski Area from 1981 to 1991 and led the team to a state championship game. Joe Intrieri played basketball at Kiski until he graduated in 2004.

"I grew up in a basketball family," Intrieri said. "I grew up with a father who always coached, and he kind of got me into it."

During his senior year as a Clarion student, Intrieri completed a student-teaching assignment at Leechburg, where he just so happened to work with that school's head basketball coach, Damian Davies.

"Damian taught me a lot about keeping a high intensity and enthusiasm in anything you do," Intrieri said. "He was a great person to learn from. He's an excellent teacher and an excellent coach."

Davies led Leechburg to a surprising WPIAL Class A title in 2007, and he added Intrieri to his coaching staff for the 2007-08 season. In addition to serving as an assistant coach, Intrieri also coordinated the district's elementary school basketball program.

"I knew what kind of quality person he was and leader he is, so I felt it was a good opportunity to have him aboard," Davies said. "He was a very valuable asset. There's no doubt in my mind that he will continue the (winning) tradition at Blairsville. He is a great fit for them."

The district hired Intrieri to teach sixth-grade science in August, and he became interested in the basketball coach position after Mark Zerfoss resigned from the post before coaching a game for family reasons.

No other teachers seemed interested in taking the position, so Intrieri applied.

"I thought it was important to have someone in the school as a teacher be the head coach," Intrieri said. "That's how my dad was, he was a teacher and a head coach. It's good because I can keep an eye on kids' grades and their behavior and deal with any problems they have."

Intrieri plans to use his ability to teach in the classroom to teach players on the court as well.

"(Whether) I'm teaching plays on the basketball court, or I'm teaching density in the classroom, (I'm) still teaching something," Intrieri said. "The subject area doesn't matter."

Intrieri will have a lot to teach his players in a short amount of time because he was hired just a few weeks before practices could begin this past Monday. He has had to quickly learn the players' names and ability levels. He's also trying to get the players to learn the offensive and defensive plays.

"There is a lot of stuff to put in, in a short number of days," Intrieri said. "As a teacher, you know you don't want to overload the kids. I'm trying to put in two or three plays a day. I'm not trying to overload, but every day we got to learn something."

Intrieri has learned quickly that his team is talented enough to be a force in the Heritage Conference. The Bobcats lost just two seniors from last year's team and return their top scorer, senior point guard Justin McGinnis, who averaged 16.4 points per game last year along with 6.1 assists per contest.

"I'm expecting some big things at the point guard position," Intrieri said. "I think (McGinnis) can be one of the best players in the section."

Seniors Jon Santoro and Ty Holderbaum are expected to be starters at the forward positions.

"Ty Holderbaum, I think he's going to be a big surprise in the section," Intrieri said. "I don't think teams will be ready for him."

The team has a lot of depth at the guard and wing positions with Steven Halmes, Scott Harsh, Clark Helm, Dylan Dando and Mitch Moximchalk all battling for starting positions.

Harsh is the team's second-leading scorer among returning players as he averaged 8.9 points per game last season.

The large group of experienced players returning from last season should help Intrieri with the transition to his first head coaching job. If he needs any extra help, he can turn to either of his two coaching mentors.

"You're only as good as how you've been taught, and I was taught by, I think, some of the best around," Intrieri said, "and I can bring that knowledge into my program."

Intrieri will actually be coaching against Davies in a scrimmage December 2 at Blairsville.

"It's definitely going to be different, going on the other sideline from my mentor," Intrieri said. "It will be something fun. I'm looking forward to it."

Intrieri and the Bobcats will see their first regular season action December 5 at the Central Cambria Tip-off Tournament.

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