Years of success lead Monessen's Salvino to 600 wins

| Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, 8:06 p.m.

After losing its first two games — to Washington and Ringgold — to open the 1984-85 boys basketball season, Monessen eked out a 64-63 overtime nonsection win over Belle Vernon on Dec. 13, 1984, for Joe Salvino's first win as Greyhounds coach.

Last Friday, in Salvino's 32nd season with Monessen, his top-ranked Class A Greyhounds (16-3, 10-0) rolled over West Greene, 85-43, for his 600th career win (against 237 losses), to become only the 11th WPIAL coach to reach that milestone.

In between, Salvino and his Greyhounds have won 18 section titles and have hoisted five WPIAL and two PIAA championship trophies. Four of his losses were in WPIAL title games.

Salvino's WPIAL crowns came in 1995 over Duquesne; 2001 over Vincentian; 2002 over Duquesne; 2011 over Greensburg Central Catholic; and 2015 over Jeannette. Monessen's setbacks in WPIAL title games came at the hands of Neshannock, Duquesne, Beaver Falls and Lincoln Park.

In 1988, Monessen defeated Bristol for the PIAA title and repeated in 1989 over Camp Hill Trinity.

In the 1994-95 season, Monessen finished with a 29-2 record, marking the highest win total in Salvino's tenure. In 1988-89, the Greyhounds recorded 28 wins (against three losses).

“Every team is different, in terms naturally of personnel and style,” he said, referring to his section, WPIAL and PIAA championship teams. “We were very good in '88 and '89 when we won back-to-back state titles. Winning the state title, you can't beat that. In 1988, we had two Division I players. Mike Bright went to Bucknell and Jim Malinchak went to Cincinnati. For a small school from a small town like Monessen, to have this basketball tradition for so long has been a big plus for us.”

But if one of those teams deserves special mention, it's Monessen's 2011 WPIAL title team, he remarked.

“We were an ‘A' school but played in Class AA,” he said. “You have to give that team a lot of credit for playing up in class and achieving what we did.”

Salvino, a 1970 Monessen grad who played baseball and football for the Greyhounds, however, chuckled at the memory of Monessen's PIAA crowns, coming in seasons when the Greyhounds finished third in the WPIAL, proving that winning the state title while finishing third in the WPIAL happens to be the way the basketball bounces in some seasons.

Only three times have Salvino's Greyhounds finished with a losing record, 11-13 in 1998-99; 8-14 in 2004-05; and 10-14 in 2012-13.

“It's definitely an honor to win 600 games,” said Salvino, who played baseball at Parsons College in Iowa, “but I could not have reached that figure without having the caliber of players we have had at Monessen, and the support of the school and community has been excellent all these seasons. We have been fortunate to have had dedicated players all these years, players who understood the values of commitment and teamwork. Our kids have realized that it takes a complete team to achieve that success.”

Instrumental in Salvino's first win that mid-December night in 1984 was senior Craig Rice, who scored 12 points — all from the foul line. Instrumental in Salvino's 600th win last Friday was Rice's son, Justice Rice, who scored 25 points. Justice Rice, a junior, recently recorded his 800th career point for the Greyhounds.

“Joe has always been a dedicated coach and a strong disciplinarian,” said Craig Rice, a physical therapist with OSPTA Home Care and Hospice in Charleroi and deacon at Union Baptist Church in Monessen. “Those qualities, plus his huge desire to be successful, have rubbed off on his players.”

Craig Rice remembers Salvino coaching in Monessen's youth programs and moving up through the system.

“Our community sometimes gets a bad rap,” Craig Rice added, “and Joe has always been there to take kids under his wing to look out for them, including those who have come from unstable backgrounds. He has helped them grow from high school athletes to productive members of our community and better citizens.”

With Monessen's 80-52 nonsection win Saturday night over Ambridge, Salvino, whose record stands at 601-237, began his quest for his 700th win.

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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