Ligonier Valley boys look to pick up tempo, build on win total in tough section

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM

It’s just Ligonier Valley’s misfortune. Since rejoining the WPIAL in 2020, the Rams have played in a section that has produced a District 7 champion in each season.

In 2020-21, South Allegheny won the Class 3A title, followed by Shady Side Academy in 2021-22. Deer Lakes took the prize in 2022-23.

“We’ve always been in a good section,” said Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin, whose first two teams finished in third place in Section 3-3A since the school’s move out of District 6.

Last season, Gustin and Ligonier Valley experienced a hiccup before ending the year with three victories in the final four games.

“We can only control what we do,” Gustin said. “We’re hoping for more wins than last year (six) and then just keep building. Maybe, down the road, we’ll be competing for a section title. Right now, we’re just trying to get better.”

Interest from a sizeable pool of prospective players is high. A total of 33 boys have been auditioning for a roster spot.

“We’re happy with the numbers, but we’ve got to find people who stand out,” Gustin said.

Ligonier Valley returns starters Chet Dillaman and Parker Hollick, the team’s leading scorer (13.7 ppg) last season. Among the departed are a pair of key players.

Gustin will miss the 6-foot-5, 230-pound James Pleskovich, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds, as well as the athleticism of three-sport standout Hayden Sierocky (8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.0 apg).

“We’re definitely going to miss those guys. We could have used them this year, that’s for sure,” Gustin said.

The 5-11 Hollick, who shot 32% from 3-point range last season, has worked in the offseason to improve his range, Gustin said.

“I know he’s been putting up shots at the YMCA. We’re hoping he can improve on his shooting percentages. He’s definitely added some pieces to his game,” he said.

Gustin said he is hopeful the 6-1 Dillaman (8.6 ppg) can set a precedent for rebounding.

“We’re going to have to work hard to overcome our lack of size. We’re going to have to rebound by committee and have everybody hitting the glass,” he said.

Freshmen and sophomores are dominating the large field of players hoping to land a spot on the team.

“It depends on how much they can develop,” Gustin said. “Do we want these guys to be stars on the JV team? It would make my job easier if some guys would start to stand out as we go along.”

Sophomores Simeon Pope and Michael Wisniewski could become staples in the lineup if they quickly can mature, Gustin said.

“They’re still young and raw, but they’ve shown some promise,” said Gustin, who coached the Ligonier Valley girls before taking over the boys three years ago.

The 5-11 Wisniewski particularly has enjoyed a productive offseason, Gustin said: “We’re hoping he’ll be a big part of our offense. He and (the 6-3 Pope) have a chance to really help us. (But) everyone needs to play defense.”

Freshman Noah Knupp, a 5-8 point guard, also has gotten Gustin’s attention in the preseason. The position was open entering the first week of official practices.

“He’s been showing a lot of good things, and he might be able to crack some minutes on the varsity,” Gustin said. “We’re excited to see what’s in his future.”

Ligonier Valley last season won half its total of victories during the final four regular-season games, winning three times. The only loss during that stretch was a 63-60 decision to Shady Side Academy in the next-to-last contest.

Now, Gustin is hoping the momentum carries over to a new season.

“We’re going to use our speed and play up-tempo and pressure the ball,” Gustin said. “We can’t let it slow down to a half-court game. We’ve been working on five guys hitting the boards and reminding guys how important playing defense is going to be. They’re going to realize real quick that it’s going to be the only option because we do lack size, experience and scoring.

“It might not be the best scorers out there, but sometimes it might be the best defenders.”

Ligonier Valley boys at a glance

Coach: Tim Gustin

Last year’s record: 6-16 (5-8 Section 3-3A)

Returning starters: Chet Dillaman (Sr., F), Parker Hollick (Jr., G)

Top newcomers: Simeon Pope (Soph., F), Michael Wisniewski (Soph., G)


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