Behind mixture of youth, experience, Shady Side Academy boys ready to compete

Saturday, December 5, 2020 | 11:18 AM

The Shady Side Academy boys basketball team lost eight seniors to graduation, but coach David Vadnais is excited about what his young players bring to the program.

“For everybody, it’s going to be a weird year, but it’s going to be an interesting year for us because those seniors that we have coming back, that are going to be role players, we’ll need them,” Vadnais said. “But I think my junior class has a chance to be pretty special. None of them are going to blow you away, but they are team players, leaders and winners.”

Juniors Rian Fitzgerald and Thompson Lau will play crucial roles, but Vadnais also has players coming up through the system he believes will contribute for many years to come.

Sophomore Ethan Salvia is one of them. He started games last year as a freshman, and Vadnais expects him to take another step forward and shoulder a bigger load for a young team.

“He’s a winner; that’s all he cares about,” Vadnais said. “He’s an unbelievable lacrosse player, but as a basketball player he just wants us to win, and he competes at a really high level all the time. Last year as a freshman it was clear that he needed to play varsity, but he had a few nerves in games because he just didn’t want to let guys down. But, this season, he’s really close with the class ahead of him, and he knows he can just play.”

Vadnais has a mixture of both experienced players and young talent. Along with Lau and Fitzgerald, juniors Alex Kramer and Josh Chu could play big roles and seniors Josh Castro and Cayden Leavy also will see time. Some of the excitement for Vadnais comes from his incoming freshmen class.

With players such as Peter Kramer and Eli Teslivoch, the future looks bright for Shady Side Academy, but Vadnais feels like his team can go out and compete this year as well.

“We graduated a lot, but I’ll be honest, throughout the year we kind of transitioned from having to rely on those seniors to having guys like Rian Fitzgerald and Thompson Lau step up and really contribute,” Vadnais said. “So, from what I’ve seen in the gym, I think we have a chance to be pretty darn good this year. Instead of just a one-year window, I think we have a couple of years window to be pretty good.”

Shady Side expects to deploy the type of depth to run up and down the court all night long. In the past, Vadnais said opponents’ top three players might have been better, but he felt like they also had the advantage when it came to their players coming off the bench.

“We’ll have more talent this year than we have in the past couple of years, so we’ll be able to get up and down when appropriate,” Vadnais said. “But I think a fatal flaw of ours last year was defense. We had some athletes we just didn’t guard well. So, this year we have to guard and get stops, so a focus of our staff has really been to break it down where we can’t extend and press if we can’t guard in the half-court.”

At the end of last season, Shady Side earned a berth into the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs and a matchup with eventual WPIAL champion North Catholic. They ended up losing by 50 points, but Vadnais said it has fired up the players for this season.

“A lot of our guys have hung on to that, and I think you can either let that defeat you or make you better,” Vadnais said. “I think a lot of our guys have pushed to get better. It taught them what it meant to be a champion or what it takes to win championships at that level.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .


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