Senior duo leading Keystone Oaks boys basketball team
Cory Sevacko and Jared Skolnicki have seen the highs and lows the Keystone Oaks basketball team has experienced over the past three seasons.
As freshman starters, the duo saw first-hand the struggles of a 2009-10 team that was only able to muster four wins.
Jump forward to their junior campaign, and the Golden Eagles soared to a 20-3 record and captured the Section 5-AAA crown.
It is progress the senior duo wants to see continue in its final year with the team.
“Coach (Gene Mercuri) came in last season and wanted to change things around,” Skolnicki said. “We want to keep building the tradition here.
“We want to be known as a basketball school.”
The pair are off to a strong start in 2012-13 as it leads the Golden Eagles in scoring. Sevacko is tops with 24.2 points per game, and Skolnicki has averaged 15.25 as Keystone Oaks is off to a 2-3 start.
Both seniors fit naturally in the up-and-down style Mercuri likes to run. Both are natural athletes — Sevacko was the top receiver on the football team this past season, and Skolnicki committed to Kent State to play baseball.
“I think the style fits the team perfect,” Sevacko said. “Coach (Mercuri) came in, and it was a perfect fit. We have the right guys to run it, and everyone gives 100 percent.”
In addition to being gifted athletes, Mercuri said Sevacko and Skolnicki have unique personalities that help them be leaders.
The second-year coach described Sevacko as a vocal leader other athletes look up to due to his unique abilities, and Skolnicki leads by example as a relentless worker on and off the court.
What both athletes have is an attitude Mercuri likes.
“As far as them being able to help mentor the other kids, I think the most important part of that is making them understand how hard we practice and bringing it every day,” Mercuri said. “Little things like jogging off the court and not walking off.
“That's where I don't need to say anything anymore. The older kids will say, ‘Hey, we're jogging off, not walking,' after each drill.”
The duo said it can be difficult being the only senior leaders on the team, but it is helped by a group of talented underclassmen.
Braydon Griffiths, Taylor Lehman and Kobe Phillippi have looked strong early, and all the athletes have a better grasp of the up-tempo style Mercuri runs.
“We knew we would have good underclassmen on the court with us this season,” Sevacko said. “As a team, we have more confidence than we did last season.”
The confidence will be needed in the Golden Eagles' new home: Section 5-AAA. While Keystone Oaks claimed the section crown in Section 4-AAA last season with a 12-0 mark, things won't be that easy this season.
The new section features some of the top boys basketball teams in the area such as Chartiers Valley, Montour and South Fayette.
Both seniors said that they understand having the same success as last season will be hard but are looking forward to the battles they will encounter on the court.
“Last year, I really felt we could handle anyone in the section,” Skolnicki said. “Everyone said we were in a weak section and doubted our skills. We can now show what KO basketball is about in the new section.”
“The competition will make us better,” Sevacko added. “Every night will be a battle. It will prepare us for the playoffs.”
That preparation for the playoffs could help Sevacko and Skolnicki achieve something they haven't during their four years as starters.
Despite reaching the WPIAL playoffs the last two seasons, the team has been unable to find a win.
That is a top priority for the senior duo as it looks to help the Golden Eagles soar to new heights.
“I haven't been on a team that has won a playoff game,” Skolnicki said “It is a step I would like to take. I want to help keep the tradition going.
“The idea of when coach (Mercuri) came in was to build a consistently solid basketball team. I want to help do that.”
The Golden Eagles return to action tonight, Thursday, as it travels to North Catholic for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.