N. Cambria eyes Heritage repeat, but Ligonier Valley, others could stand in way

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 11:48 p.m.

Defense! Sure, Northern Cambria boys basketball coach Dan Weber is hoping for some of it.

But not just on the floor.

Weber has been intently studying his players in preseason practices to see if they understand how difficult it can be to defend a championship.

In this case, Northern Cambria didn't just claim the 2011-12 Heritage Conference title, it won the District 6 Class A championship by beating Bishop Carroll by a single point.

“I truly believe these kids will work harder and do it all over again,” Weber said. “There's a sense of trying to get back there.”

The Northern Cambria boys team, with five returning starters and a move to Class AA, and the Class AA Blairsville girls team, with four starters back, are favorites to win Heritage Conference championships this season.

Former Blairsville girls coach Ralph McGinnis returns to the Bobcats after a three-year stint at Richland, where his 2012 team defeated Blairsville in the District 6 championship game.

“I'm inheriting a team that was 21-5 last year and has all our starters back,” said McGinnis, Blairsville's fourth coach in as many years. “There aren't too many coaches who have had that opportunity.”

For Weber and the Northern Cambria boys, a small, quick and experienced team that includes four senior starters, could have enough firepower to overcome the rest of the field, including a number of other experienced teams.

Ligonier Valley, with five players 6-foot-5 to 6-7, is likely to provide the biggest test for Northern Cambria.

“We're pretty big. We have some height and we're athletic,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “Our length will give teams problems.”

Northern Cambria guard Adam Polites heads the Colts' returning starting five after averaging 15.8 points per game as a junior. He edged 6-7 junior Alec Bloom (13.6 ppg.) of Ligonier Valley for preseason player-of-the-year honors.

“We might have a little target on our back this year,” Weber said. “We opened some eyes with the success we had last year.”

Northern Cambria was eliminated from the PIAA Class A playoffs with a 72-50 loss to Visionquest Academy of District 10.

At Blairsville, McGinnis succeeds P.J. Vrankovich as coach, returning to a school where he coached from 1996-2001, notching 20-win seasons in his final two years.

“It was hard to say goodbye to those kids at Richland,” McGinnis said, “but I had a long drive up there every day. I'm blessed to be back in Blairsville. I live 500 yards from the school.”

Senior guard MacKenzie Livingston (14.0 ppg.), the Tribune-Review's conference preseason player of the year, and sophomore forward Chelsea Koren (13.7 ppg.) lead the Bobcats, who lost to McGinnis and Richland, 54-43, in the District 6 Class AA championship game in 2011-12.

Ligonier Valley, led by seniors Kyra Ludwig (11.7 ppg.) and Maddy Grimm (11.3 ppg.), was chosen to finish runner-up to Blairsville in the girls team race.

“We're nine players deep. We'll be fine,” Ligonier Valley coach Paul Dominic said. “We're ready to play. We're in good shape.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dmackall@tribweb.com or 412-380-5617.

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