Ligonier Valley winter sports teams finally get down to preparing for WPIAL debuts

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021 | 12:01 AM


Ligonier Valley athletes and coaches were getting restless.

When the school district shut down sports activities Nov. 18 — yes, that long ago — the Rams were left to their own devices as far as training and working out, all with their anticipated debut in the WPIAL on the horizon.

Not exactly the way they drew it up.

“It’s not an ideal way to start our first winter season in the WPIAL, but everyone is ready for the challenge,” Rams first-year athletic director Wesley Siko said.

Monday marked the first practice day for winter athletes at Ligonier Valley, a day that was a long time coming. The district, with a safety-first approach, paused sports until its schools returned to hybrid learning.

The first day back should have come with a manual for new boys basketball coach Tim Gustin, who still is getting to know his players. An orientation day would have been nice, too.

“It was only the second time I’ve been able to meet the team after getting hired in November,” said Gustin, who formerly coached the Rams’ girls basketball team. “For us to have a coaching change a week before the season was to start and having all activities closed down … we are in for a very interesting season.”

If you’re scoring at home, Rams fans, athletes and teams went 53 days without practicing, all while many WPIAL teams were getting in reps before Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-week shutdown of high school sports that ended Jan. 4.

Players with hoops in their driveways had an advantage. Some ran it back at the local YMCA until gyms also were forced to close, pushing them back to boredom.

Homespun Zoom meetings have become commonplace for teams as a way to stay in touch and begin the bonding process.

“I feel good and the team feels good,” Rams guard Matthew Marinchak said after his team’s second workout. “I was very surprised with our chemistry so early only having two practices … we are really gelling together.”

Ligonier Valley left District 6 to join the WPIAL. Fall teams completed their season. Now the challenge is in the lap of winter teams — basketball, wrestling and swimming — as schools try to play keep away with the covid-19 pandemic.

“Making the move to the WPIAL, a new coach and system and losing some great players from last year’s team would already make for a tough season,” Gustin said. “Now losing all this practice time, scrimmages and having a shortened schedule, we are really unsure of what to expect from our team.”

The PIAA requires teams complete 10 practices before their first game or match. For Gustin, the crammed time period will be used to reveal strengths and weaknesses and establish basics — “starting a program,” the coach said.

“As much as I would like to really game plan and prepare for our first game, we will be focusing on our own team and getting our system in place, and my goal for us is to improve from that first game until playoffs. Hopefully, we can be the team we want to be and have the potential to be come playoff time.”

Siko said the first games and matches are scheduled to begin next Friday.

“We have all the faith in our coaches to prepare our athletes to get them ready for the shortened season,” Siko said.

Boys basketball opens Jan. 22 at home against South Allegheny, and the girls play Jan. 23 at Yough.

Wrestling and swimming also will start the season Jan. 22 at Yough and at Derry, respectively.

The girls basketball schedule has 15 games, and the boys has 12, totals that could change.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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