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Highlands boys begin post-Micah Mason era

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Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Kaison Branch runs through a drill at a recent practice.
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By George Guido
Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

After nearly 20 years of run-and-gun basketball at Highlands High School, a new era is about to emerge.

Gone will be the 88-82 shootouts that often took fans' breath away and wore out pens at the scorer's table.

No, the Golden Rams won't be reverting back to those 31-27 snoozefests of the 1980s that were part of coach Tom Myers' era.

But new Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski would like to find a happy medium.

“We'll want to maybe get the score into the 50s,” Stoczynski said. “I look at the past several years and we would give up an average of 70 points a game, and that led to early exits in the playoffs.” Highlands has made the WPIAL playoffs each of the past seven seasons, but only reached the semifinals once. That came in 2009 when the Golden Rams advanced to the WPIAL finals against Hampton.

Added Stoczynski: “Defense wins championships. We want to instill that toughness and ruggedness that every time you come into our gym, it's going to be a dogfight. You don't want anything to come easy.”

Want proof?

The warm-up jerseys read “Runnin' Rams” for many years. The “runnin' ” has now been eliminated. A 2009 graduate of Gannon University where he assisted over the past two seasons, Stoczynski is one of the WPIAL's youngest head coaches.

“In a way, I can relate to what the kids are going through — that's a good thing,” he said. “At the same time, I need to make sure I create that line between coach and player. When you really come down to it, I have to hold people accountable.”

Gone from the Golden Rams' lineup is Micah Mason, a two-time all-state player who finished as the WPIAL's all-time leading 3-point shooter and the second-leading scorer in Alle-Kiski Valley history. Mason, a freshman at Drake, wasn't the only loss; the other four starters also graduated.

While the starting lineup continues to be a work in progress, it's worth noting football standout Allan Cratsenberg is out for the basketball team and is expected to contribute. Senior forward Aquelay Frison is doing well academically after setbacks last year and looks dominant in practice.

Other players to watch include senior Anthonee Jones, junior Julian Flenory and sophomore Kaison Branch.Highlands opens the season Dec. 7 at the Plum Tip-off Classic against the host Mustangs.

“I don't know how good or bad we're going to be, but I know we're going to play hard every time we go out on that floor,” Stoczynski said.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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