Ligonier Valley boys basketball hopes for smoother sailing in 2nd season back in WPIAL

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | 8:20 PM


Ligonier Valley’s return to the WPIAL saw a lot of ups and downs during the boys basketball season.

Because coronavirus shut down the school until mid-January, the athletic teams had little time to prepare for the season.

“We had 20 practices all season last year,” Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin said. “We’ll have 17 practices before our first game. We also were able to play in a summer league in Greensburg and were able to hold offseason workouts to work on developing our skills.

“It’s been a good offseason, and we’ll be better prepared for our second season in the WPIAL.”

The Rams finished their first season back in the WPIAL 5-11 overall and 4-6 in the tough Section 3-3A. The Rams opened the playoffs — the tournament was an open format last season — with an 80-41 victory at Brownsville but were eliminated by Section 3-3A champion South Allegheny, 75-36. It was the Rams’ third loss to South Allegheny last season.

“The first year back was a learning experience for the program,” Gustin said. “Every team in the WPIAL will have athletes. Teams have talent, quickness and speed. We learned that there are no guaranteed wins, not like we had in the Heritage Conference.”

The Rams return four starters. Senior Matthew Marinchak, a four-year starter, returns with his 16.8 points per game average. Also back are seniors Jaicob Hollick, who averaged 10.1; Miles Higgins and Dylan Rhodes, who averaged 6.0 points. Higgins is just returning from a leg injury sustained in football.

Gustin said during the offseason they worked on different skills with the players. They tried to help Marinchak develop better shooting techniques, and Rhodes worked on his 3-point shooting.

“We want Matt to be able to score better off the ball,” Gustin said. “It will make him a better player.”

Gustin said senior Jude Grzywinski, one of the teams’ top reserves, and junior Haden Sierocky, who hasn’t played basketball since eighth grade, will be starters.

“It’s exciting to get Haden back out,” Gustin said. “He’s very athletic, and he’ll be a big addition. He made an effort to get to the offseason workouts.”

The Rams must replace Isaac Neidbalson, who averaged 10.8 points per game.

Other whom Gustin expects to contribute are seniors Connor Little, sophomore Chet Dillaman, senior Connor Tunstall and senior Joey Kondisko.

“We need everyone to contribute points this season,” Gustin said. “I think our scoring will be more by committee.

“The biggest improvement we need to make as a team is defense. That’s been the focus. We allowed too many points (63 points per game) last year. We need to cut that down to the mid 50s.”

Ligonier Valley was supposed to open the season Dec. 10 in the Derry Tip-off tournament, but the tournament recently was canceled. They now are playing in the Plum tournament.

“Luckily we were able to fill the void,” Gustin said. “We’ve put together a strong nonsection schedule. We’re playing Greensburg Central Catholic, Jeannette, Greensburg Salem, Latrobe, Mt. Pleasant, Southmoreland and the Kiski tournament.”

Gustin said Shady Side Academy, which returns all five starters, will be the section favorite. He said South Allegheny will be good again, and Steel Valley and East Allegheny have talented players returning. Apollo-Ridge and Valley are the other teams in the section.

“We want to make the playoffs again,” Gustin said. “Our goal is to finish top three in the section. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Ligonier Valley boys at a glance

Coach: Tim Gustin

Last year’s record: 5-11 (4-6 Section 3-3A)

Returning starters: Matthew Marinchak (sr., G), Jaicob Hollick (sr., G), Miles Higgins (sr., F), Dylan Rhodes (sr., F).

Top newcomers: Haden Sierocky (jr., F), Connor Tunstall (sr., G), Chet Dillaman (so., F), Connor Little (sr., C), Jude Grzywinski (sr., F), Joey Kondisko (sr., G).

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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