Boys basketball preview: Latrobe looks for return to winning ways

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Monday, November 30, 2020 | 6:21 PM


Latrobe boys basketball has seen its share of success under longtime coach Brad Wetzel, who has experienced just four losing seasons since taking over the program in 2002-03.

The Wildcats enter the current campaign, though, hoping to erase the memory of one of those off years that resulted in a 6-16 record, the worst showing by one of his teams in Wetzel’s 18 seasons on the Latrobe bench.

“It hasn’t all been glorious,” he said.

But mostly, it has — Latrobe has spent time atop the WPIAL rankings on several occasions and has produced a number of college-bound players over the years, including three recently to Division I schools — and Wetzel would like nothing more for his team than to watch it blossom into another winner.

Right now, he said, it’s hard to tell how it will go.

Latrobe returns nearly its entire lineup, but the Wildcats suffered one big loss when Michael Noonan, a 6-foot-6 post player who is a freshman at Division III Allegheny, graduated. He averaged a double-double in points and rebounds as a senior at Latrobe to lead the Wildcats last season in both categories.

Without Noonan, Latrobe lacks even more size as it drops down in classification to 5A from 6A and joins Franklin Regional, Gateway, Kiski Area, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills in Section 3.

“It’s going to be an extremely difficult schedule we’ll be playing,” Wetzel said. “We’re not big at all. We do have some experience, but we’re not very deep. We keep on searching for a rotation that’s going to work.

Wetzel would like to find an eight-man group that can carry most of the load. Noonan was the team’s lone senior last season.

“We’re just trying to find an identity,” said Wetzel, who has led Latrobe to a combined record of 248-170, including a 22-3 mark in 2015-16, when the Wildcats made an early postseason exit after being beaten by Pine-Richland in the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals and North Hills in a PIAA first-round game. “Through the years, we’ve gone through cycles, like a lot of teams do. We really just want to get to the point where we can compete.”

Senior guard Ryan Sickenberger, who averaged 15.0 points per game last season, heads the returnees for the Wildcats. Senior guards Drew Clair and Frankie Newill and junior guard/forward Chase Sickenberger are the other returning starters.

“Last year was quite a growing experience for Ryan,” Wetzel said of the 5-10 elder Sickenberger brother. “Actually, all these guys have benefited by coming up through the ranks and watching some of our outstanding players who have gone on to the next level.”

Three ex-Latrobe players currently are in Division I: Austin Butler (Holy Cross), Reed Fenton (Lehigh) and Matt Cullen (Navy).

Wetzel is hoping to get mileage out of another group of players, all of whom he feels will help to make up the team’s regular rotation.

Landon Butler, a 6-3 sophomore, is among them. He’s the younger brother of Austin and Bryce Butler, a sophomore forward at Division II West Liberty. Seniors Michael Shoemaker and Patrick Shimko will get looks in the early going, Wetzel said.

After a streak of seven winning records, Latrobe hit a rut last season and the Wildcats don’t want to make it two down years in a row.

“We’ve got some depth,” Wetzel said. “We’re going to have to overcome the size disadvantage we’ll face night in and night out. This is a tough section with a lot of teams hitting their strides. Hopefully, our guys will pull together and find a way.”

Latrobe boys at a glance

Coach: Brad Wetzel

Last year’s record: 6-16 (3-7 Section 3-6A)

Returning starters: Drew Clair (Sr., G), Frankie Newill (Sr., G), Chase Sickenberger (Jr., G/F), Ryan Sickenberger (Sr., G)

Top newcomers: Landon Butler (So., G), Nick Raucco (Sr., G), Michael Shoemaker (Sr., G)

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