Class AA No. 1 Seton-La Salle still unbeaten after 16 straight victories
After seven weeks, the WPIAL has just three undefeated boys basketball teams. Two are New Castle and Vincentian Academy, WPIAL champions from last season.
The third is Seton-La Salle.
“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with teams like that is great for us and our school and our program,” coach Mark Walsh said.
Yet, the upstart Rebels quickly have proved they too might belong. This has the look of a second consecutive 20-win season for Seton-La Salle (16-0), the No. 1-ranked team in Class AA and a serious contender for the WPIAL title.
“It's not something we talk about a lot,” Walsh said, “but we believe we might be one of the six or seven teams that at least have a decent shot at winning it.”
With a trio of three-year starters, a front court that reaches 6-foot-6 and a handful of double-digit scores, the team has a solid combination of experience, size and balance. The Rebels are ranked second in the state, behind only Philadelphia's Constitution.
A one-point nonsection victory Wednesday over North Catholic extended the team's season-long winning streak to 16.
“It's been fun and surprising,” senior Dale Clancy said.
The team's record has improved quickly under Walsh, a third-year coach. The Rebels were 15-9 in 2011-12, his first, and 21-3 last season. They're also in line for a third straight playoff berth. The team is 8-0 in Section 4-AA, which includes a 66-32 win over second-place Washington (6-1) on Jan. 9.
“We try to explain to our guys how proud we are of them that they've built the program back up so quickly,” Walsh said.
Making the Rebels contenders again was personally important to Walsh, a 1986 graduate. Three of his four assistants also attended the school: GJ Schaeffer, Shawn Trainor and Ron Muszynski, who won a state title as a player in 1988.
“We feel so glad that we're a part of the resurgence; there's a great satisfaction,” Walsh said. “But I want to make sure the credit goes to the kids. They're the ones who have bought into what we're doing and have put in the time and energy. We just feel fortunate.”
The Rebels were WPIAL champions in 1989 and runners-up in 1982, ‘90, ‘91, ‘93 and 2000. Yet, despite that successful past, the program had just one other winning season in the past decade (13-11 in 2008-09). In the two seasons before Walsh arrived, the Rebels were 6-14 and 4-18.
“Coming from 4-18 to 16-0 is a pretty big turnaround,” Clancy said.
The Rebels offense starts with Clancy, a 5-foot-9 senior point guard who became a starter midway though his freshman season. Clancy, a 16-point scorer, had 20 in last week's win over Chartiers-Houston.
“He's a very quick, left-handed point guard,” Walsh said. “We think he causes matchup problems for other teams; I think it's an advantage sometimes to have a left-handed point guard. Most teams defend everything going to the right. It's a nice luxury to have.”
A frontcourt with size also is nice. At forward, the Rebels start senior Malik White (6-4), junior Ryan Norkus (6-3) and senior Levi Masua (6-6). White and Masua, who each average around 12 points, also started the past two seasons. Norkus has averaged 14.
Christian DelGreco, a 5-9 junior who averages around 10 points, has been the team's shooting guard. First off the bench are senior David Boehm (6-2), sophomore Cletus Helton (6-0), junior Andrew Rodgers (6-3) and senior Tommy Rizza (5-10), who Walsh calls their stopper.
“His defense is just unbelievable,” Walsh said. “If a kid (on the other team) gets really hot in the game, I'll sub him in. As he comes by me I'll say, ‘Tommy, lock him up.' ”
Seton-La Salle averages 67.4 points, which ranks sixth in Class AA. The 48.5 allowed by its defense ranks fourth.
The team's last two seasons ended with playoff losses to Quaker Valley, including a one-point game in the 2013 quarterfinals. Before entering this year's postseason, the Rebels want to finish off an undefeated regular season. The team's schedule has six games left, including Friday at home against Fort Cherry.
“It's extremely important,” Clancy said of the team's unbeaten record. “We're not sure it's ever happened at Seton.”