Knights return bulk of starting lineup
By Matt Grubba
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
Tipoff time is this weekend for WPIAL boys basketball teams, and the squads at Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional each is starting the year by setting the bar higher than their finishes last year.
Penn-Trafford is the reigning co-champ, and Norwin was a playoff team out of Section 1-AAAA last season, while Franklin Regional will try to improve on its two wins last year in Section 2-AAAA after a season in which half of its section games were decided by 10 points or fewer.
Section 1 shrunk by one member with the drop of Laurel Highlands to Class AAA, but the Knights and Warriors again will face Albert Gallatin, Connellsville, Hempfield, Kiski Area and Latrobe in section play.
On the flip side, Section 2 increased by one notable member, Central Catholic. The Vikings moved into the section to make room for new Quad-A teams New Castle and Hampton in northern-based Section 3, and they join the Panthers and returning members Fox Chapel, Gateway, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills.
Below is a look at each team as they enter the season:
The Knights won five of their final seven section games last season to reach the playoffs and finish 11-12 overall, but with four starters returning, this season's Norwin team should be able to avoid another slow start.
Leading scorer Matt Stewart, a versatile 6-foot-5 senior, should again be the Knights' go-to guy, while 6-foot-4 junior forward Alex Haas and 6-foot-5 senior forward Nick Idele give Norwin three sizable veterans in the starting five to go with returning junior point guard Zach Bryan.
“I know where we're at this year at this time, compared to where we were last year, it's like night and day,” Norwin coach Lynn Washowich said. “This time last year, we were still more on the basics of what we want to do. Now, we're more familiar and working on the minute things on offense and defense to make us better.”
The Knights also have senior forward Nick Palo, another tall player who came off the bench last year, and with Stewart's ability to play the shooting guard spot, Norwin could potentially turn to a lineup with only one player under 6-foot-4 on the court.
“We're not monstrous, and we don't have a 6-8 or 6-9 kid, but we have nice overall size,” Washowich said. “They're all athletic and they can run, and we've really been working in our scheme on feeding the post and knowing what to do from there.”
Also back for the Knights is junior reserve guard Steve Socrates, while two sophomores, Logan Deri and Curtis Perz, also will be in the varsity rotation. Perz, a transfer into his home district after attending Greensburg Central Catholic last year, is a 6-foot-1 guard and an unexpected addition to the Knights' lineup.
“I didn't know (Perz) until he came to school here, but he has great qualities. He really defends and is physical,” Washowich said. “He's a heck of a player, and he's the kind of kid you tell him something once, and he learns it.”
The Knights will get an early measure of where they stand this weekend at Penn-Trafford's Tipoff Tournament. Norwin opens at 5:30 p.m. Friday against Class AAA Mt. Pleasant, and Saturday it will face Class AAAA No. 2 Hampton at 4:30 p.m.
The Warriors enter the season ranked ninth in Class AAAA, and as the only ranked team from Section 1, they are the presumptive favorite. But even though P-T has four starters returning from last year's team, there are no sure things in a section where every team lost at least two section games in 2011-12.
Senior forward Corey Stanford, a 6-foot-4 forward rated as the No. 4 WPIAL player in the Class of 2013 by Pittsburghbasketballreport.com, is the top returning scorer for the Warriors. Joined by senior forwards Andy Abreu and Brian McDonough and senior guards Dorian Stevens and Christian Rohaus, who was a starter in his sophomore season, Penn-Trafford has a wealth of experience in its starting lineup.
“It's always nice when you have experience,” Penn-Trafford coach Ryan Yarosik said. “I can remember a couple years ago, I talked to Brad (Wetzel) out at Latrobe when they had seven seniors, and he said having seniors makes all the difference.
“When you have those guys that have been around the block and been through the grind, they pick up on things pretty quick, and you can get through the things you want to in practice.”
Behind the veteran starting five are two other seniors that are expected to provide solid minutes — guards Darrin Mihm and Danny Owoc. The Warriors have size on the bench in 6-foot-7 junior Sam Kavel, though injury might limit the big man's ability to contribute in the early parts of the season.
Two younger players, freshman point guard Timmy Vecchio and sophomore Scott Koscho, both will see varsity minutes while also spending time in the junior varsity lineup, as Yarosik gets more of his players ready to fill in behind his deep senior group.
“We feel that we have a healthy starting five, and we're excited to open the new gym,” Yarosik said. “I can't think of a better way to start than playing Hampton.”
The battle between the ranked Warriors and Talbots will be Friday's nightcap at 8:30 p.m., while P-T will host Mt. Pleasant at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Both of those games are expected to help prepare P-T's players for the section schedule, which Yarosik anticipates will again be challenging.
“Last year, we got a shared section title under our belts, but I don't think this group of seniors wants to share with anybody this year,” Yarosik said. “Every team (in Section 1) lost a little bit, but I think most of the teams are going to be stronger than last year. We're going to be well-prepared for this season, and our kids think we can have a long run and hopefully get some state (playoff) games under our belt.”
The Panthers are coming off a season in which the team got three of its six wins against Quad-A playoff teams, but came up on the short end of a number of close contests both in- and out-of-section.
Though Franklin Regional will have a much younger lineup this season, the hope is that this year's Panthers can find a way to turn those close losses into close wins and make a push for their own playoff spot.
“We're inexperienced, as far as varsity team, but this is my fourth year,” Franklin Regional coach Brad Midgley said. “This is a group that's been with me since eighth and ninth grade, so they understand our philosophy and what we want to do on the defensive side of the ball.”
FR's most experienced players are junior guard Charan Singh, the team's lone returning starter, and senior Nate Hlozek, a regular contributor off the bench last year.
Junior guard Matt Renzi, junior forward Tyler Hamilton and sophomore guard Jake Roberge all are players that have worked to grab a spot in Midgley's rotation, while Joey Biondo, the team's only other senior, will add depth to the guard positions after battling through injuries over the last two seasons.
“It's a group that competitive, and I don't have to do a lot of motivating. That makes practice with these guys a lot of fun,” Midgley said.
“Going through preseason and our scrimmages, I kept telling them not to focus on the scoreboard, but to focus on each possession. I don't expect us to be consistent because we're so young, but I think we're going to be able to fight for a playoff spot if we handle what we're supposed to.”
Section 2 is more wide open than in previous years, as stars such as Gateway's Tyler Scott and Barnett Harris, Woodland Hills' Shakim Alonzo and Plum's Nolan Cressler have moved on. That leaves question marks around many of the league's teams, which could open the door for FR to move up.
“In the past, you know who Gateway had, you knew Plum had Cressler,” Midgley said. “This year, there's six or seven teams that can legitimately battle for four playoff spots.”
Franklin Regional opens its season against the hosts in the Upper St. Clair Tipoff Tournament on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and it will play a second game Saturday against either Monessen or Chartiers Valley, with the start time to be determined by Friday's result.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Alle-Kiski Valley basketball teams look for place among WPIAL’s best
- Serra basketball coach Gibbons wins battle with cancer, returns to sideline
- Section 1-AAAA favorite Hempfield girls set sights on WPIAL title
- Valley girls basketball sees boom in roster numbers
- Greensburg Salem girls to have different look than last year’s team
- Mid-Mon Valley basketball teams ready to tip off
- New Valley boys basketball coach Faulx seeking right mix
- Blairsville girls, boys expected to lead pack in Heritage Conference
- Trio of junior captains return to lead Greensburg Central Catholic girls
- City League basketball preview: Westinghouse teams out to defend titles
- South Allegheny believes playoffs within its grasp