Challenging early-season schedule benefiting St. Vincent men in PAC play
While they say that championships aren't won in the first stages of a season, the St. Vincent men's basketball team believes its early-season schedule could help it come playoff time.
The team challenged itself prior to its Presidents' Athletics Conference schedule with tough opponents, including former top ranked NCAA Division III team Virginia Wesleyan and current No. 14 St. Mary's (MD). While both games resulted in losses, the Bearcats learned plenty from those games that it can take into the postseason.
“I really think the coaches did a great job of making our schedule,” senior guard Chris Klimchock said. “They scheduled it that way so that we would be more relaxed and calmer in situations like that.
“I think it really has shown in conference play as we've won two big games on the road up at Thiel and Grove City in overtime. I think just being in those types of situations year long in the nonconference schedule has given us confidence.”
St. Vincent has used that confidence to build a 7-1 record in conference play (12-5 overall), a mark good enough to share first place in the PAC with Thomas More.
Klimchock, a Greensburg Salem product in just his first full season at St. Vincent after transferring mid-season last year from Edinboro, has played a big part in the Bearcats' success. He posts team highs with 15.4 points per game and 28 total steals.
“I think Chris brings a lot of energy to our team,” head coach D.P. Harris said. “Sometimes when guys transfer in they come with a lot of expectations. I don't think Chris came in that way, but I do think that Chris brings a basketball savvy with him and a real willingness to be coached and do what we ask him to do.”
According to Klimchock, a lot of those steals are a product of the defensive pressure the team prides itself in, often full-court pressing opponents and playing an up-and-down style of basketball.
“Our defensive pressure is one thing we've really used this year,” Klimchock said. “It's gotten us a lot of easy points and speeds the game up to our kind of tempo.”
But in order to perform at such a frenetic level in game situations, a team that plays with that much energy must prepare at a high level every day in practice.
“I would say that our practices are pretty intense and we get after it,” Harris said. “I thought we improved a lot over the Christmas break when the kids didn't have school and we were able to put some time and dedication into playing good sound defensive basketball.”
Klimchock isn't the only Greensburg native on the Bearcats' roster. He is joined by freshmen Greensburg Central Catholic alums in brother Ben Klimchock and Dan Sinwell.
Despite their family ties, this is the first time the Klimchock brothers have ever been able to call themselves teammates. While Ben Klimchock and Sinwell have played sparingly in their freshmen seasons, Chris Klimchock still appreciates sharing the court with his younger brother for the first time.
“We always talked about how one day we wanted to do that and this year it's been great,” he said. “It's been an awesome experience. We've played basketball our whole lives but have never actually played on the same team and to get a chance like that is something really special.”
“Both kids are great kids to have in a program, they come from a nice family and we're certainly happy to have them,” Harris said.
But with its final stretch of regular season games coming up, St. Vincent's team goals are well defined, and its early season slate of games just might aid in a postseason run.
“Our goals are to win the conference and go to the NCAA Tournament,” Harris said.
“I think with our nonconference schedule, playing those types of teams before is going to really help if we make it to the stage where we might find ourselves against a couple of those teams we played earlier in the year,” Chris Klimchock said. “We're looking forward to it.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.