Childhood friends turn Beaver basketball teams into winners
Greg Huston fondly remembers shooting hoops and messing around in the gym with his buddy Andy Podbielski while the two were growing up.
“We'd go down to the Beaver Falls gym with his dad, and me and Andy and his brother and friends would play 2-on-2 football in the gym when we were in fifth grade,” Huston said. “We'd shoot around, and then I'd spend the night at their house. It was fun. His dad was a great guy. He'd take us all to Dairy Queen after and get us a Blizzard.”
It wasn't just frozen treats the late Dave Podbielski gave to his son and to Huston. He also passed along a love for basketball — and a proficiency for coaching it.
Less than two decades after Huston and Andy Podbielski played on the same fifth-grade basketball team together, they are colleagues guiding basketball programs at the same school.
Combined, there aren't many doing it better, either.
Beaver's boys team, coached by Podbielski, is 13-1. The Huston-led girls team is 13-1. The combined 26-2 record for Beaver's basketball teams is bettered only by Vincentian (27-1) among WPIAL teams.
“It's exciting and great for the school,” Podbielski said. “We want them to do well, and they want us to do well. It's nice to have the school be proud of both basketball programs.”
Beaver long has had a girls team it could be proud of. The Bobcats are on the verge of clinching a sixth playoff spot in the past seven seasons and are gunning for their fifth PIAA tournament appearance since 2007.
The Beaver boys hadn't been nearly as successful. When the program was in need of a new coach in 2010, it had been more than a decade since its most recent playoff appearance and 23 years since it had won a postseason game. The Bobcats had won only six section games in the previous four years combined.
“When (Podbielski) interviewed, I was telling everyone they needed to hire him,” Huston said. “I said, ‘I know he can coach. He obviously was a great player, his dad was a great coach.'
“I was really happy he got the job, and he's done a pretty good job so far.”
Beaver improved from 3-17 to 11-11 in Podbielski's first season. Then last season, the Bobcats won 19 games and advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals.
This season, Beaver is tied with Chartiers Valley for the best record in WPIAL Class AAA.
“Hopefully, winning breeds success,” said Podbielski, whose father won WPIAL titles as a coach at Beaver Falls and New Brighton. “I think everybody in the program comes to the varsity games and sees the excitement and sees the crowds and wants that for themselves. That makes you work harder. Once you have that taste of success, you always want more.”
As a player, Podbielski was a big scorer for his father at Seneca Valley and went on to play at Westminster College. Huston was part of Blackhawk's WPIAL Class AAA championship teams in 1999 and 2000, scoring 16 points in the 2000 title game.
Huston is 51-31 as Beaver's girls coach, having successfully replaced five departed seniors this season. The Bobcats lead the WPIAL in scoring defense (25.0).
Each Beaver team has the look of one capable of a fruitful postseason run.
“Some of our girls date the guys on the boys team,” Huston said. “They're all always talking. We practice right after each other every day.
“It's been neat to see the success they've had. ... It's a pretty cool time for Beaver basketball.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.