Kittanning boys convinced success will continue
Among members of Kittanning's boys basketball team, there's some struggle to conceal confidence this season.
Fielding a lineup loaded with experienced, tall, athletic players will have that effect.
Four starters return from a team (9-14, 6-8 in Section 1-AAA) that made the playoffs for the first time since 1985. Only one player on this season's squad is shorter than 6 feet.
“And they're bigger and a little stronger this year,” coach Bill Henry said. “But it all comes down to the mental aspect of the game, how they prepare for it and how seriously they practice. I think that's where the key is with them right now.”
Senior guard Sterling Henry headlines the group of returning starters. One winter ago, he led the team in points (18.9), rebounds (7.8), assists (3.1), blocks (2.9) and steals (3.3) per game.
Henry, a 6-foot-4 inside-outside threat, is comfortable with the idea of continuing to produce at those levels.
But he believes the improvement of his teammates during the offseason might allow him to actually shoulder less responsibility in the offensive end.
“Everyone has gotten a lot better, so I don't know,” Henry said of his role. “It's whatever the team needs me to do. I don't really mind how many points I score a game, as long as we win them.”
Senior forward Vince Mead (6-6) worked well as Henry's pick-and-roll partner. He averaged 11.1 points per game and also ranked second on the team in assists (2.2) and rebounds (6.6) per game.
The task of bringing the ball up the court often belonged to Henry last season. But senior Kevin Barnes (6-1) and junior Alex Schaffer (6-1) now are prepared to share that duty full-time; both previously ran the point to spell Henry.
“Really, it's whoever gets the rebound takes it,” Barnes said.
Barnes, who also served as one of the team's top defenders, averaged 3.5 points, 1.7 assists, 2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game.
Choices to round out Kittanning's starting lineup include senior swingman Mitch Pirhalla (6-3), junior forward Eric Hulings (6-6), sophomore guard Noah Kunst (6-1) and sophomore forward Nick Bowers (6-5).
Bill Henry said juniors Corey Oresick (6-3), Jordan Lattanzi (5-8) and sophomore Noah Spang (6-1) provide the Wildcats additional depth, particularly in the frontcourt.
Kittanning's shot at a section title slightly improved after WPIAL realignment moved perennial power Hampton to Class AAAA. But the Wildcats welcomed Freeport as a new and challenging section foe, and Mars, a frequent playoff qualifier, remained in the group.
“This is definitely the year that we have the best opportunity to go for the section title,” Barnes said.
“We're looking at it as we were one of the top teams last year,” Bill Henry said, “so why not be one of the top teams again this year?”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.