Milestone victory adds to glowing resume of Upper St. Clair’s Holzer

By: HSSN Staff
Saturday, February 2, 2019 | 10:09 AM


He is highly respected and one of the deans of the basketball coaching ranks in Western Pennsylvania.

Dan Holzer, 54, is in his 24th season as coach of the Upper St. Clair boys basketball team.

A Thomas Jefferson graduate, Holzer attained a career milestone with USC’s 75-64 section win Feb. 1 at home against Bethel Park.

It was the 400th victory of Holzer’s coaching career — a distinguished career that includes two WPIAL championships, one WPIAL runner-up finish, seven section titles and a 400-198 overall record.

“Winning 400 games is a great accomplishment for our entire program,” Holzer said. “I am incredibly proud and honored to be leading USC basketball. I have been fortunate to have many great people along the way, including great players, administrators, assistant coaches, parents and student fans.

“The past 24 years have been a special part of my life; I hope there are many more to come.”

The Panthers have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs 20 times in the past 24 years.

In 2004-05, they racked up a 27-3 record in Class 4A, won WPIAL and section titles, and advanced to the PIAA second round. That season, the Panthers were led by Sean Lee, now a veteran linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.

USC also captured a WPIAL crown in 1995-96 and was 22-6, and finished as a WPIAL runner-up in 2002-03 and ended up 27-4.

“One of the things I enjoy most about coaching high school basketball is the life lessons it teaches our student-athletes, and myself as well,” Holzer said. “Learning how to deal with success and failure is an ongoing life experience for all of us.

“Having so many players stay in touch and come back and see us is what I enjoy the most about USC. We have so many successful young men.”

Prior to his lengthy stint at USC, Holzer was an assistant at Duquesne University from 1991-95, Cal (Pa.) from 1989-91, and Thomas Jefferson from 1987-89.

He was a three-year starter at TJ and a 1983 graduate. He also played in college at Alliance, and earned his teaching degree from Edinboro in 1987.

Holzer has been a teacher at USC for 22 years; most recently, he has taught American history at the 11th grade level.

“My coaching philosophy is to work as hard as you can, have a passion to get better and do the right thing as a person,” Holzer said. “There have been so many great memories. Every victory is a favorite memory, but if I had to pick, it would be the 1996 and 2005 WPIAL championship victories.

“Some behind-the-scene things would be how much I’ve enjoyed every practice with our USC players the past 24 years. That includes good and bad times.”

Two of the team leaders on USC’s 2018-19 squad, which is ranked No. 4 in Class 6A by Trib HSSN, are seniors Tanner Gensler and Chris Pantelis, both fourth-year varsity members.

Gensler is a 6-foot-4 forward and the Panthers’ leading scorer.

“I’ve loved every second playing for Upper St. Clair. Coach Holzer is not only a great coach but a good guy who would do anything for his players, no matter what,” Gensler said.

“Everything is coming together for us as a program right now, and it’s just great to see the entire community enjoy it too.”

Gensler netted a career-high and school-record 42 points Dec. 14 at home against Peters Township.

“My favorite memory (at USC) has to be the Peters game,” he said, “but honestly it’s just this year in general; getting to play with my best friends and brothers and seeing us succeed at such a high level. The fans have been great and seeing the little kids get into the game is really awesome.

“I love our student section. They make games fun to play, and seeing all my close friends in the front rows just makes it even better. We are far from done with this season, I will tell you that.”

Pantelis stands 6-1 and is a smart, athletic backcourt player. Like Gensler, he offered high praise for the hoops program Holzer oversees so admirably and with class.

“Playing for a program like Upper St. Clair and coach Holzer has been something I’ve enjoyed every day since I was a freshman,” Pantelis said. “The amount of time coach puts in for this team is unbelievable. This also translates to his passion for the team and for the game of basketball in general. That’s why I couldn’t be more thankful to him for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a prestigious program for the past four years.

“I’ve made a lot of great memories throughout my time playing for coach Holzer because of how many great people I’ve been able to share the court with. Above all, my favorite memory has to be my first career start as a freshman when we played against Monessen in our tip-off tournament.”

Upper St. Clair won its first 13 games this season before dropping a 10-point section decision to rival Mt. Lebanon. The Panthers rebounded with a four-game winning streak, including a resounding 90-38 decision Jan. 25 against Baldwin.

“We are focused on our section games, obviously,” Gensler said. “They are going to be tough ones. We just need to stay together and keep playing team defense and turning that into offense. We are scary when that happens as you can see from Baldwin game.”

USC will close out its section schedule Feb. 5 on the road against first-place Mt. Lebanon (17-2, 9-0).

“The overall goal for us coming into the season was a section championship, and ultimately a WPIAL championship,” Pantelis said. “But in order to do that, we’ve had to take each game one at time and prepare and practice like it’s our last. This will continue to be the expectation for us no matter who we play the rest of the way.

“(It) will definitely be difficult because of just how tough our section is. We will have to play some of our best basketball in order to achieve something great in the postseason.”

On Feb. 8, the Panthers will host Fox Chapel in a tune-up for the WPIAL tournament.

“Down the stretch, I hope we continue to improve,” Holzer said. “I have really enjoyed coaching this team. I hope it can extend into the playoffs because this group plays together, and they are good kids. They work really hard.”

As has their coach.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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