Young Latrobe boys basketball roster looks to overachieve again
Monday, November 29, 2021 | 6:21 PM
Ask Latrobe boys basketball coach Brad Wetzel to name something his teams do well from year to year.
The answer might surprise you.
Take last year’s squad. That group quite possibly outdid them all, according to Wetzel, who enters his 19th season as coach of the Wildcats.
“Those guys just really overachieved,” he said. “To win in the playoffs like they did? We’ve got a similar scenario going into this season. There’s a lot of youth and not much experience. It’s another one of those seasons where we’re just hoping to improve.”
Two starters return from an “overachieving” 8-7 team with a decided height disadvantage that achieved a 6-3 mark in Section 3 of the WPIAL Class 5A and eliminated highly regarded Thomas Jefferson in a first-round playoff game a year ago.
The Jaguars entered the tournament with an 18-4 record and were seeded three spots ahead of Latrobe at No. 7, but Latrobe prevailed, 61-59, when Ian Hansen’s last-second shot for TJ was off the mark.
“We had six games decided at the buzzer and we won five of them,” Wetzel said. “It was so much fun.”
Latrobe fell to New Castle in the WPIAL quarterfinals, but Wetzel said it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the Wildcats’ latest overachievement.
He’s looking to find that same “fun” feeling from this year’s team.
The most experienced player coming back is 6-foot-1 senior Chase Sickenberger, the younger brother of Ryan Sickenberger, who was Latrobe’s leading scorer last season and currently is a freshman guard at Division III Allegheny.
Chase Sickenberger has been in the Latrobe starting lineup for two seasons.
Landon Butler, a 6-2 junior, is the other returning starter. He’ll look to remain there for a second consecutive season.
Competition for the five starting spots has been heated in practices, Wetzel said, referring to it as a “refreshing” scene.
“We could have three to five sophomores and freshman who might see the floor before the Christmas break,” he said. “As difficult as this could be, the nice thing is the competition level is kind of high.”
Wetzel said he’s also counting on senior guard Zach Marucco and three other juniors, guards Drew Kosuch and Connor Lakin and forward Tyler Mondock, to step up this year.
“Connor Lakin is just a tough kid. He makes practice more physical,” said Wetzel, who’s hopeful that his veteran players will learn to take the lead on an inexperienced team.
“I tell them, ‘We’ve had good senior leadership in the past. Now it’s time for you guys to do your job and go out and help the younger guys.’ Even their teammates who are upperclassmen, who haven’t played much, those guys need direction. Our veterans need to show patience. There definitely is going to be a learning curve here for everyone.”
Wetzel said he’s hoping also that experienced guys can remain on the floor as much as possible. Staying out of foul trouble can aid the process, he said.
“Those guys can really provide some stability that we desperately need,” Wetzel said.
Last year’s delightful season during the height of a pandemic, indeed, was a surprise following a tough year in 2019-20 that saw Latrobe win just six of 22 games.
Wetzel is fast-forwarding his timeline for the program’s revival. Latrobe averaged 19 victories during a four-year span from 2014-17.
“Last year, we felt up against it,” he said. “It looked like we would have two really tough years ahead of us. But what last year’s team did was incredible. It’s a shame nobody got to see them play (because of covid-19).
“Now, that two-year fight is down to one year, and we feel that next year those young guys we’re developing will be ready to play and we’ll go on another run.”
Latrobe opens the season Dec. 10 at Butler.
Latrobe boys at a glance
Coach: Brad Wetzel
Last year’s record: 8-7 (6-3 Section 3-5A)
Returning starters: Landon Butler (Jr., F), Chase Sickenberger (Sr. F)
Top newcomers: Drew Kosuch (Jr., G), Zach Marucco (Sr., G), Tyler Mondock (Jr., F)
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