Challenging nonsection slate helps Sto-Rox prep for playoffs
Sto-Rox coach Bill Minear won't allow his team any cupcakes unless they're the kind with frosting.
The Vikings have played one of the WPIAL's tougher nonsection schedules, especially among smaller schools, with games against ranked teams from all four classifications.
Call it a no-bake recipe.
“We're going to go play everybody,” said Minear, whose Vikings faced Chartiers Valley last Sunday, a 74-43 loss. “I think it makes us tougher mentally, although we got our heads beat in a couple times.”
Among Sto-Rox's nonsection opponents were four teams ranked No. 1 at some point this season: Chartiers Valley and Beaver in Class AAA, Greensburg Central Catholic in Class AA and Lincoln Park in Class A. The Vikings also faced Seneca Valley, which cracked the Quad-A rankings.
With losses to all five, the difficult schedule didn't help their overall record (10-7), but the young Vikings believe it should improve their odds this postseason and next.
“Even though we lost those games, it will help not playing cupcakes,” junior Lenny Williams said. “When we make it to the playoffs, we're already used to playing good teams.”
Sto-Rox, which has wins over Erie Strong Vincent and Propel Charter, has two more nonsection dates later this month with Perry and Montour. It's an approach Minear has long supported, and one he doesn't plan to change.
“I'm never going to regret it because of all that up there,” he said of the championship banners that hang in the gym. “I know the schedules that went into that. We never ducked anybody.”
With a half-game lead in Section 6-AA, Sto-Rox (10-7, 7-2) visits Northgate on Friday night. Northgate (11-6, 5-3) beat Sto-Rox in early January, 58-52, one of the Vikings' two section losses. The other was a three-point loss to Avonworth (11-7, 7-3), the section's second-place team.
The Vikings are playoff-bound, but still very much a work in progress.
“For us to be where we are, I'm happy,” Minear said, “yet I expect more. ... I know where we're headed and I can see it. But there's been a lot of bumps in the road.”
Finding consistency has been an issue. Of the 11 players on the varsity roster, 10 have started at some point this season, he said. It didn't help that football delayed the arrival of seven players for a month. Academic issues and a shrinking roster also hurt.
“It was hard getting used to playing with everyone,” said leading scorer Tonyea Curry (13.6 ppg), a senior guard who transferred from Carrick.
“We're still trying to find our best game,” said Williams, the football team's quarterback.
The Vikings have just one player who started last season, Makil Allen, a 6-foot-6 junior who averages double figures in points (10.6) and rebounds. Williams has scored 12.6 points per game, and senior Tony Frenzley has averaged 9.5. Around them have been senior point guard Ben Shackleford, senior forward Jason Rippole and junior forward Elisha Bonner. Two sophomores, Javale Kirkland and Craig Johnson, also have contributed.
“I enjoy coaching this team because you can see them growing,” Minear said. “It's not every day. Sometimes we take a couple steps back, too, but they've got a good mindset.”
“We've just got to improve our maturity.” Allen said.
They also need to improve their defense, Minear said. He takes his players for pizza when they win and hold an opponent below 44 points.
This year they've done that twice. But they also allowed three teams to score more than 70.
“Defense is the key,” Williams said. “We can score, but our defense is just too inconsistent.”
Sto-Rox was strong during the summer, including a victory over Lincoln Park in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club's league, Minear said. That gives him hope.
“Knowing what they did in the summer and just knowing the competitiveness of Sto-Rox guys overall, hopefully the playoffs will bring out a little bit more,” Minear said. “That's what I'm looking for.”