Latrobe in 2nd year of rebuilding with high expectations
The Latrobe boys basketball team is entering the second phase of what coach Brad Wetzel has described as a two-season process.
Last season, the Wildcats entered Section 1-AAAA with low expectations from outsiders — not due to a lack of talent but due to a lack of experience at the varsity level. When Wetzel sat back to assess how the season went, he was thrilled and a bit surprised at how his players exceeded his expectations.
“Last year was really just a bunch of young guys who had little to no varsity experience, and we kind of just threw them to the wolves to try to experience the competition and understand what we had to do,” Wetzel said. “Hopefully, we can learn from last year's experience and come out this year and make a run at making the playoffs again.”
The Wildcats finished the season 8-14 overall and 6-8 in the section, good for fifth out of eight teams. Lost in those numbers are the fact that before ending the season on a six-game losing streak, Latrobe was on pace to secure a playoff berth.
“What that said to me was that there is a difference between seniors with experience at the varsity basketball grind — knowing that you come to that point when every game toward the end of the year matters and can take a lot out of you,” Wetzel said. “With no experience and nothing to look back on, they got overwhelmed, and let's be clear, physical fatigue sets in every year and that won't change this year.”
This year, Wetzel has the luxury of coaching a senior-laden team with varsity-level experience. Ben Havrilla will run the point again this year, and Wetzel expects him to welcome even more responsibilities. Mike Soforic — a 6-foot-6 swing/off guard — had shining moments in games last year, and Wetzel expects him to put it all together on a consistent basis.
Will Wears, in his first year of organized basketball emerged as one of the top rebounders in the WPIAL, a role he will look to improve upon this year. Blake Reeping will play a swing guard/ forward position, and Matt Dunlap will contribute as a starter and come off the bench. The youngster of the group, sophomore Chad Kissel, will add defensive speed that was lacking last year.
“I really like this group, because I think they bought into the fact that we are going to be up against it every night — certainly in our section,” Wetzel said. “They stayed together and really with no real superstars ... just a bunch of guys trying to get the job done.
“Everybody embraced their roles. We had good chemistry and even when we lost we didn't lose chemistry.”
Just one season removed from having little to no expectations, Wetzel said this year will be different and there will be aspirations surrounding the program.
“I would say ultimately I believe we're capable of making the playoffs again,” Wetzel said. “This team's learning curve was big last year. We need to continue and make the steps. We may compete a little bit later, but I think by February if we are playing the best basketball we can play, we can play with anybody in our section.”
The Wildcats tip off the season Friday when they meet Farrell in the Julius McCoy Memorial Tournament at Farrell.
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.