Underdog Greensburg Central Catholic boys lacrosse team makes way into WPIAL playoffs

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022 | 5:56 PM


Who would have thought the boys lacrosse team at Greensburg Central Catholic, coming off an 0-8 record and led by a first-year coach with no experience in the sport, would qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, having inched close to the .500 mark going in?

Well, seemingly with some help from above, it did.

“Honestly, I don’t know how it’s worked out,” said senior Aaron Stasko, a multisport athlete at GCC, where he participates in football, wrestling and lacrosse as the boys goalkeeper.

“Only by the grace of God.”

What a wonderful time the Centurions were having this season playing for first-year coach James Kuniega, a 26-year-old religion and Latin teacher at GCC.

A graduate of (Harrisburg) Bishop McDevitt High School and Saint Vincent College, Kuniega never played varsity sports at either school, though he did participate in recreational soccer leagues.

“My experience with lacrosse certainly has been minimal,” he said, recalling a limited number of times he has attended a match.

While Kuniega has stuck to a mantra focusing on ideals such as discipline, respect and good sportsmanship, his players have taken what limited success they’ve had and built upon it — most, it seems, with no clear path to a future in the sport.

Stasko, for instance, proclaims his love for lacrosse, even while already having committed to play football next season at Duquesne as a preferred walk-on. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Stasko is hoping to compete for the Dukes’ regular long-snapper job.

Hopefully, he said, that time will come. For now, he’s been enjoying his role at GCC and was excited to prepare for the WPIAL Class 2A lacrosse playoffs, where the 11th-seeded Centurions were scheduled to open with a first-round match on Tuesday at No. 6 Moon.

“We have a lot of untapped potential, a lot of talent, a lot of good players,” said Stasko, one of four GCC seniors, joining attackers Brayden Degre and Tyler Johnson and defenseman Joseph Semelka.

Seven juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen round out the 21-man roster.

When GCC assistant Jennifer Erdely in the offseason told the players that Kuniega was going to step in and coach the team, Stasko was quite amused.

“I almost busted a gut laughing,” he said.

Stasko, turning serious, added: “I don’t know what my thought process was at that point. I’d be lying if I thought going into the season we’d be competitive in most games. Actually, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. The first practice was really shaky. We had no sense of what drills to run or how to conduct practices.”

Somehow, though, GCC got its act together and finished the regular season with a 4-5 record after beating Aquinas Academy, 9-3, on Friday in its final tune-up before the playoffs.

“Our big picture this year, so to speak,” Kuniega said, “because of the inexperience I’ve had on the technical aspects of the sport, is, ‘Can we take them and put men on the field, learn how to be good men, learn how to conduct ourselves, develop and improve our work ethic?’

“I’ve taught or currently teach most of the guys,” said Kuniega, who filled a coaching vacancy created when Matt Trella resigned after one season. “They see me in the classroom and on the field. There’s certainly room for camaraderie, but at the same time, we’ve been teaching discipline, respect, good sportsmanship. That translates over to a better chance of winning.”

Something the Centurions did four times in nine tries, or nearly half the games. And, while some of the results were lopsided to the minus, GCC was fortunate enough to qualify for the playoffs and negate that winless record in the previous year.

All along, Kuniega seemed to have been negotiating the season while wearing blinders.

“He doesn’t complicate anything. He says, ‘Let’s just go,’” Stasko said. “I will say this: When he was named coach, he took a lot of flak (from outside sources). He never flinched at the comments. The guy just rolled with the punches.

“What I get out of that is, ‘Who cares what so-and-so has to say? Just do your thing.’ Everybody stuck with him. He taught me that you don’t have to know everything about something, that sometimes, the best things happen without a plan. He says, ‘Think positive and keep moving.’”

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