Greensburg Salem boys basketball preparing to face Class 6A competition

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Friday, November 27, 2020 | 9:02 PM


The lure of familiar names was too much for Mark Zahorchak, the third-year Greensburg Salem boys basketball coach and former Golden Lions player. So much so that he elected to take the jump.

All the way to Class 6A.

“At least, we’ll have some connection with most of the teams,” he said of the decision to leave Class 5A and ‘play up,’ “and to me, 5A and 6A are the same level, anyway.”

Coming in just one student above the WPIAL threshold for Class 4A schools, Zahorchak’s Golden Lions this season will leave Class 5A, where they have played the past four seasons.

Greensburg Salem enters the year aligned in Section 3-6A with five other schools, including Westmoreland County counterparts Hempfield, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. Central Catholic and Fox Chapel round out the group.

Senior guard Cade Cavanaugh is the lone returning starter for the Golden Lions, who struggled to a 5-17 record a year ago in Zahorchak’s second season as coach. And while the loss of the team’s top two scorers, Dante Parsons (19.0 ppg) and Ryan Thomas (13.0 ppg), to graduation is a blow, Zahorchak is excited for the season to get underway.

“We feel good about what’s here,” he said. “We’re going to be a little more athletic. We have a lot of length in our players, which is nice, but we’re guard-oriented, so we’re going to push in transition. We’re going to need to play a different style.”

The Golden Lions enter the season with just one true post player in 6-foot-5 Levi Ciesielski.

“We have four or five guys who can shoot it pretty decent,” Zahorchak said. “We’ll see if they can do it in game situations. We’re going to try to take advantage of our athleticism and beat people down the floor and go from there.”

A host of others are vying for a spot in the team’s main rotation, including 6-1 Ethan Sandberg and Zach O’Bryan, both seniors; 6-3 Donavin Waller, 6-2 Ben Thomas, 5-10 Adam Townsend and 5-9 Kage Burkart, all juniors; and 6-0 Rashad Canady, a sophomore.

Maybe it is Zahorchak’s fondness for the old-school style that swayed his decision for Greensburg Salem to move up in class.

As a Golden Lions player from 1985-88 under ex-longtime coach Paul Sapotichne, Zahorchak savors the memories.

Not surprisingly, his sentiments go beyond his playing days, when the school competed in Class Quad-A, the WPIAL’s highest classification at the time, as well as his coaching career at his alma mater, where he’s entering his 14th year in the system.

Perhaps the death in September of Howard “Huddie” Kaufman, the former Tribune-Review editor and passionate Greensburg Salem historian, stirred Zahorchak’s memory bank even more.

“For years, he kept our scoreboard when I was coaching the ninth-grade team,” Zahorchak said. “We often sat together and chatted. We truly lost a legend in Huddie, and I’ll address that with the kids when the time is right.”

Greensburg Salem’s opening games at a tournament at nearby Hempfield was canceled because of covid-related issues with some schools, and the Golden Lions now are scheduled to open Dec. 11 at crosstown Greensburg Central Catholic, a Class 2A program.

“The oldtimers like the old rivals,” Zahorchak said. “We’ve tried to fill the schedule with some of the familiar teams we’ve played in the past: Latrobe, GCC, Mt. Pleasant, Derry, Yough … We’re playing those guys, and we’re playing Connellsville and Laurel Highlands.”

The meeting with Laurel Highlands is a continuation of the Golden Lions’ series with the Mustangs that is entering its fifth consecutive season.

“We’re even planning to play Paul’s Riverview team,” said Zahorchak, who coached the Greensburg Salem junior varsity team for a time under Sapotichne.

It is likely to rouse memories even more when the two teams meet. Following Sapotichne’s decision to leave Greensburg Salem in 2012, Zahorchak offered an emotional response.

“You’ve been part of my life for 29 years,” he told his longtime Mentor and former coach at the time.

Recalling those memories now, Zahorchak has continued to search for the start of a winning pattern again at Greensburg Salem.

The Golden Lions have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs just three times in the past eight years, the most recent in 2018, resulting in a first-round loss to Trinity.

Zahorchak is hopeful for a breakout year from Ciesielski, calling him “a strong, physical kid.

“I’m interested to see what he can give us. He’s really honed his game,” Zahorchak said.

Cavanaugh, the lone holdout, returns after missing a stretch of games to close the season last year with a shoulder injury.

Three others — 5-10 senior Rob Seigenfuse (shoulder surgery), 5-10 junior Adam Townsend (broken foot) and 5-11 sophomore Cody Rubrecht (broken leg) — also were in recovery mode.

Also, Zahorchak said 5-10 sophomore Raequan Rollins is out for the year with a football-related injury that required shoulder surgery.

Despite those setbacks, Zahorchak remained optimistic.

“There’s no egos,” he said. “It’s a very selfless group. I think we have pretty good chemistry.

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