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West View's St. Athanasius wins Diocesan basketball title

| Friday, March 16, 2018, 11:00 p.m.
The 2017-18 St. Athanasius Catholic Youth Ministry basketball team included, in front, from left, David Vrana, Tim Brown, Jon VanKirk, Drew Longjohn, Connor Milavec; and in back, Ryan Buzzard, Rich Pajak, Noah Marshalek, Anthony VanKirk, Josh Krull and R.J. Galbraith. Jacquez Myers also is part of the team.
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The 2017-18 St. Athanasius Catholic Youth Ministry basketball team included, in front, from left, David Vrana, Tim Brown, Jon VanKirk, Drew Longjohn, Connor Milavec; and in back, Ryan Buzzard, Rich Pajak, Noah Marshalek, Anthony VanKirk, Josh Krull and R.J. Galbraith. Jacquez Myers also is part of the team.

In his 10 years as coach, Bill Dice has guided nearly 100 kids on the St. Athanasius Catholic Youth Ministry basketball team. This season's team was one of the more successful: St. Athanasius captured the CYM Diocesan Championship and finished third in the statewide tournament.

The squad for St. Athanasius, which is located in West View, was composed of 13 high school-age players. Of the baker's dozen, 11 are students at North Hills, and the other two attend North Allegheny.

The players for St. Athanasius include: David Vrana, Tim Brown, Jon VanKirk, Drew Longjohn, Connor Milavec, Ryan Buzzard, Rich Pajak, Noah Marshalek, Anthony VanKirk, Josh Krull, R.J. Galbraith and Jacquez Myers. The team was balanced offensively, with four players averaging at or near double-figures in scoring and everyone contributing.

“We never put one kid ahead of anyone else. We don't strive to get the ball to one guy,” Dice detailed. “They were all committed and all-in on defense.” The CYM, which is an equivalent of the longstanding Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), serves as an alternative to high-school basketball. Many of the players in the CYM are those who failed to make the high-school team or who were unable to dedicate the time required to play.

To that point, Dice began weekly open gyms in September, consisting of games instead of practices. The CYM season began in December, and St. Athanasius compiled a record of 18-7, including 11-3 in the North Section. Four teams each from the North and South sections advanced to the Diocesan playoffs, which were Feb. 24 at Bishop Canevin High School.

St. Athanasius went 3-0, capturing the second Diocesan Championship in Dice's tenure. The following weekend, the team competed in the CYM State Championship, which was held in Pittsburgh. Because the host area is allowed to enter two teams, St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, located in Baldwin, also competed, joining teams from Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg and Erie, among other regions.

St. Athanasius won its first two games but in the semifinals fell to St. Gabriel, a team it had defeated the prior weekend. St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin captured the title, and St. Athanasius finished third.

“It's a little disappointing. You head into these things feeling like you have a chance to win every time you play,” Dice said. “But third out of the state is not bad.” The setback provided a lesson for the players, according to Dice.

“You have to be able to take defeat in stride, and in a Christ-like way, you have to be able to handle that,” he said. Dice expressed his desire to see the CMY basketball league continue to thrive. He has concerns, though, that the consolidation of churches might cost the league some visibility. He has seen firsthand the positive impact the league has on teenagers.

“If it weren't for this, what would they be doing?” he asked. “This gives them an opportunity to go out and play and interact with other kids.”

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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