Unsung heroes dot coaching staffs of Westmoreland County state playoff teams

Thursday, March 7, 2024 | 11:01 AM

It’s the first practice after a relaxing weekend, and Norwin girls basketball coach Brian Brozeski is lowering the hoops around the gymnasium at “The Castle.”

(He stays away from hoop No. 5. It’s a long story.)

His WPIAL champion players file into the gym after a group walk on a sunny afternoon and immediately go to their stations as they begin preparation for the PIAA playoffs.

Some girls shoot around with assistant coach Joe Oestreich, others go to the weight room to meet with strength coach Ted Jasko.

Brozeski knows he can rely on his support staff.

“You have to make sure you’re well-rounded,” Brozeski said of the start of the PIAA postseason. “You prepare for what you have seen and try to anticipate what you haven’t seen.”

He and his helpers have seen a lot.

You might call Oestreich and Jasko unsung heroes in the Norwin program, which will raise championship banner No. 3 after the Lady Knights defeated North Allegheny, 56-41, last Friday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

The Class 6A state playoffs begin at 6 p.m. Friday night when Norwin (21-3) hosts William Penn (16-10) in the first round.

Oestreich has been with Brozeski every day of his coaching career, and the pair has won all three titles together.

Brozeski said it was a no-brainer to bring Oestreich onto his staff 13 years ago. Oestreich, after all, was the Lady Knights’ head coach from 2000-03 before Bob Shrader took over.

“He’s our offensive coordinator, and he’s a father figure,” Brozeski said. “He’s a basketball junkie. He can’t get enough of the game. I’ll get late texts from him, and he or I will be watching a (college game) and we’ll say, hey, put this game or that game on, look at what so and so are running.

“We’re also both math teachers (at Norwin), and we have a full-size window between our rooms. We’ll draw up plays on the window.”

Oestreich is from West Mifflin and coached at Groves High School in Savannah, Ga., before joining Norwin.

“I am just another cog in the machine,” he said. “There is a lot of freedom with Broz. A lot of head coaches do all the talking, and you feel like you might as well be a team manager. He lets me draw up plays in his huddles. I make 90% of the calls on offense, and the inbounds plays.”

Brozeski sometimes lets his top assistant talk the girls out of stressful situations.

“He knows when to raise his voice around the girls and when to lower it,” Brozeski said. “He makes sure the girls understand.”

If Oestreich is the brains, Jasko is the brawn.

Oestreich’s former assistant, he works with the girls their weight training.

“I enjoyed seeing the genuine happiness in the girls when they won (the WPIAL championship),” said Jasko, a retired Norwin teacher who taught adaptive physical education. “I train with the girls when they’re not playing another sport. They lift and and work on agility with me. They lift all year. Some day, they’ll go into Planet Fitness and know what to do.”

Jasko will get a championship ring, and it also will be his third.

Other county teams also rely on those who work quietly behind the scenes.

Joe Cool

Joe McGinn has been an assistant with the Franklin Regional boys since 1994-95 season, working alongside five head coaches: Dom Berardinelli, Doug Kelly, Brad Midgley, Steve Scorpion and now Jesse Reed.

His role is valued more than ever as the Panthers (23-3), fresh off their WPIAL 5A runner-up finish, open PIAA play at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Warwick.

“He’s our free safety,” Reed said of McGinn. “He does anything and everything for us. He helps with plays and is a therapist on the bench. He knows how to talk to the guys.

“When they hired me, I wanted to keep Joe on staff. He helped me with the landscape of Franklin Regional basketball as a whole.”

McGinn had his prostate removed in 2018 after a cancerous tumor was discovered and continues to get hormone shots to combat the cancer that he said still shows up in his blood.

“Every 90 days,” he said of the shots. “I know I am fortunate. They want me to keep doing the shots until it is in remission. They said it could come back, but they can’t say when or if it will for sure.

Coaching is one of McGinn’s true pleasures, and it energizes him, he said, every time he walks into the gym.

“The best two hours of every day,” he said.

McGinn, who works for Huntingdon Bank, does bike-riding fundraisers to benefit prostate cancer research. Some are 200-milers over two days.

“He likes to ride his bike to practice sometimes,” senior guard Cam Rowell said. “He is inspiring. He always hypes us up.”

McGinn, who also served as an assistant for four years at Shaler, has more state-playoff experience than anyone on the team.

“It’s about building relationships,” he said. “I love it. I have made so many friends coaching. I have such a comfort level with Jesse. He asks for my input, and I appreciate that.”

The players look to McGinn for guidance on and off the court, and it is evident they respect him.

“There’s always a smile on his face,” senior guard Cooper Rankin said. “If we’re upset, coach Joe says we can yell at him.”

Side of Rice

At Monessen, veteran assistant Craig Rice is the gem of Dan Bosnic’s staff.

The eighth-year assistant is the father of former Greyhounds star Justice Rice, who had a strong playing career at Grove City.

The elder Rice has an eye on preparation. He and the other coaches will guide Monessen into the PIAA Class A first round at 7 p.m. Friday at Elk County Catholic (23-2).

“Coach spends a lot of time helping our kids be successful behind the scenes,” Bosnic said. “We spend a ton of time every night during the season scouting our opponents to help our kids prepare for an upcoming game. He is someone I know I can count on because I know he’s watching the same films I am every night. From how we want to match up defensively, mismatches we want to try to take advantage of, plays that we expect opponents will try to run against us and how we want to cover them, to what we expect from an opponent defensively, we try to prepare our players in practice so when they get in the game they know exactly what to expect and how we want to handle it.

Bosnic said Rice’s commitment to offseason training is just as pivotal to the program.

A Monessen grad, Rice played basketball at the school and graduated as his class valedictorian.

He is a local physical therapist.

Matt Factory

Matt Polinsky has added a different dimension to the Derry staff.

A former point guard who played for head coach Tom Esposito, Polinsky went on to play at Lebanon Valley.

Esposito said he is his playcaller and that his skill development is top level.

“Great offensive insight,” Esposito said. “We’ve been together so long as a player/coach and for the past six years as my right-hand man.

“He is a huge reason we’re playing Saturday. He is my best assistant coach ever and best friend.”

Derry (15-8) will play its first PIAA playoff game when it travels to Girard (23-2) on Saturday night. The Class 3A game tips at 7:30.

Polinsky has worked with the Trojans for the past five years over the summer to improve skill work.

“I’m humble enough to admit that I cannot teach what he teaches our players to develop their skills,” Esposito said.

T. J. Petrosky, another assistant, has been key to the Trojans’ historic season, Esposito said.

Fast Eddie

Ed Zimmerlink has been on staff for the last 12 years with the Greensburg Central Catholic boys. He was on staff when current head coach Christian Hyland was playing point guard for the Centurions.

“Eddie brings a stern voice and holds our guys accountable,” Hyland said. “He’s very honest and is a big influence in getting our guys stronger.”

Chris Kallock also has helped Hyland and the Centurions (23-3) to another PIAA playoff trip. They host Windber (15-9) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Chris has been with me since my start as head coach (five years ago),” Hyland said. “He brings a great energy each day and really gets our guys to compete. He has the experience of a head coach, which is so important to myself and our program to have. He leads our defense and brings a great game plan to each game.”

Kallock has been the head coach of the GCC and Kiski Area girls in the past.

“Both are awesome guys and friends and make my job a whole lot easier,” Hyland said.

Group effort

Jeannette coach Adrian Batts has a unique situation on his staff. Four of his former players help guide the Jayhawks (17-9), who will visit Iroquois (14-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Erie in the 2A first round.

Julian Batts, a former Jeannette star who played at Long Island Brooklyn, is the associate head coach. Other former Jayhawks Darius Brown, Swade Redman and Mike Pompei also are assistants.

Top assistant Ken Errett is also an alum. He has been with Batts for all 16 of his seasons as coach.

“He’s Jeannette through and through,” Batts said of Errett. “He’s coached so many of our former players that are coaches now, and he’s a huge part of our success. The younger staff all have something in common: They all played point guard for me and had the opportunity to play for a WPIAL title. So they all had successful careers at Jeannette and understand my expectations. They all know what it means to wear that uniform, and they give so much knowledge back to youngsters in football with Darius and the other coaches in basketball.”

Batts, who has not missed the playoffs as the Jayhawks’ coach, said he is most proud that his younger assistants are all college graduates.

“They can be role models and mentors to our players by showing them they’re capable of becoming successful,” Batts said. “They also remind me that they I’m not the same fiery coach I was when I coached them. But I remind them that the fiery coach helped shape them.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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