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West Mifflin senior Maha returns to guide Titans toward another playoff berth

| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 10:27 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
West Mifflin's Mike Peterson takes part in lay-up drills during practice on November 29, 2013.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
West Mifflin's Brian Kolar takes some free-throw practice on November 29, 2013.

To hear coach Lance Maha talk about his boys basketball program at West Mifflin, it really is a case every year of reloading over rebuilding.

While players come and go, the Titans have managed to pull together and qualify for the WPIAL playoffs as a Class AAA program in every year under Maha, getting there in 2012-13 for the 14th time.

With a new season approaching, the loss of four starters from that 16-6 team (10-2 in Section 4) might be cause for alarm.

Not so at West Mifflin, said Maha, in his 17th season at the school, including two when the Titans were bumped up to Class AAAA.

“For us, the goal is the same every year,” he said. “We want to clinch a playoff spot, win a section championship, win the WPIAL and ultimately win the state title.”

West Mifflin failed to earn a coveted PIAA championship in 2002, losing to District 1 Kennett in the Class AAA title game in Hershey.

The latest run to another playoff berth for the Titans begins with the opener Friday at Class A Serra Catholic. They'll put a new lineup on the floor, but at least one familiar face should be seen.

Point guard Ryan Maha, the coach's son, returns for his senior year after leading West Mifflin to playoff appearances the past two years, when he started every game. He averaged a team-leading 18.0 points per game last season, when West Mifflin was ousted from the WPIAL playoffs in the first round by South Fayette.

“That was disappointing,” Lance Maha said of the season-ending, 40-34 loss to the Lions.

As a freshman in 2010-11, Ryan Maha usually was the first player off the bench for a West Mifflin team that rolled to a 22-4 record, despite a first-round loss to Johnstown in the PIAA playoffs.

“He has a lot of experience,” Lance Maha said of son, who will attend Division III Carnegie Mellon in 2014. “He's going to be the leader of this team, and he relishes that role. He understands what we're doing, and he does a good job of helping his teammates in practices and during the games.”

Just what a coach needs from a true point guard.

“It's my time in the order to move up and be the leader of this team,” said the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Ryan Maha, who has been among the leading 3-point shooters in the WPIAL during his career. “I am an extension of (his dad) on the court, and I believe that I've earned that right. My teammates respect the fact that I've been there, and they trust me. I've always wanted to take on that role.”

Ryan Maha's leadership qualities go beyond the court. He is No. 1 in his class this year at West Mifflin and will take his talents in both arenas to CMU. He also had been recruited by Bucknell, Columbia, Cornell, Division II Pitt-Johnstown and Division III Johns Hopkins and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I've always thought about where I'd go to school,” he said. “It didn't matter if it was Division I, II or III. I like to challenge myself in the classroom. I'm competitive, so getting to be No. 1 in the class and having a chance to be valedictorian was a competition. It was a challenge to me, and I've enjoyed the opportunity.”

Lance Maha said that, despite losing much of his starting squad to graduation, he's confident his current team can make another successful run, in spite of a lack of size.

The rest of the Titans' probable starting lineup could consist of guards Karlyn Garner and Brian Kolar and 6-3 forwards Mike Peterson and Phil Jackson.

“In my opinion, we have the best section in Class AAA this year,” said Lance Maha, who enters the season with a career coaching record of 227-126. “There is a deep group, and I look for the best teams to be Thomas Jefferson (the defending section champion), Elizabeth Forward and Steel Valley.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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