SEASON PREVIEW: HICKORY
There's always a little nervousness when a new coach takes the helm of a program. It is no different for the Hornets Tony Mastrian, although the rookie head coach has a little bit more to contend with than most first-year coaches.
"The best way to describe it is a lot of anxiousness," said Mastrian. "There's a lot of optimism for the kids involved, and I'm excited for them. I just hope I can transfer the energy I show to them and that they'll be able to display it on the court."
Which is one unique problem Mastrian is currently dealing with. Hickory has no home court, and may not have one for the next month because of a major renovation project under way at the high school. Last week, Mastrian said scheduled home games with West Middlesex, (Dec. 12) Sharpsville (Dec. 15) and Meadville (Dec. 22) have been moved on the road to those respective schools because of the construction, which is running several weeks behind. The first home game is now tentatively set for January 5 against AAA league foe Slippery Rock.
"The kids are anxious to get into the new gym, but I give them a lot of credit for how they've been able to cope," Mastrian said. "The kids have been real good about it and I am proud how they've reacted to the situation. There have been no negative displays that would be detrimental and they've been working hard just as if they had their own gym. And I think that goes back to the newness and the energy with the (coaching) change that is going through the program right now."
It is that energy Mastrian is hoping to harness in halting what has been a string of three successive losing seasons (8-16, 9-15 and 4-19) for only the second time in school history, the first since 8-15, 4-18 and 10-12 marks from '69-70 to '71-72.
"The kids still know the tradition of the success we've had over the years under coaches like Bill Dzuricsko," Mastrian said. "That feeling is still through the basketball program."
That may be especially true, according to Mastrian, for the seniors who have been under his wing since their freshman seasons.
"As freshmen, they had a record of 16-2," Mastrian said. "They know they were able to perform well. I'm trying to make them think back about the good things they did do to reach the success we're used to at Hickory."
And Mastrian will do that through a solid senior quartet of returning letterwinners in 6-foot-1 forward Chris Simonik, the squad's leading scorer a year ago with 228 points; a pair of 5-9 guards in Bill Geisel (143 points) and Joe Banas (132), the team's fourth- and fifth-leading scorers; and 6-foot forward Joe Daoust.
Simonik, Geisel and Banas were all starters at least part of the season a year ago, and along with Daoust are are being asked to fill in for the likes of graduated 6-6 Ian Dickman (193), Zach Sabo (177) and Dan Johnson (111), as well as Paul Wasko.
"We're not very big this year, but hopefully we'll be able to make it up with our quickness, shooting ability and hustle," Mastrian said, before adding specifics on each of letterwinners.
"Simonik is a solid leader and player, he knows the game well and is very unselfish. ... Geisel is a very, very good pure shooter, maybe one of the best we've had come through the program. ... Banas is very physically strong and has a great amount of energy and a lot of quickness. ... Daoust is one of those guys who has a nose for the ball and he has great defensive skills."
Others expected to dress varsity are: seniors -- 6-2 forward Ethan Seig; juniors -- 6-4 forward Jeremy Glass, "who we look to for rebounding and to be one of our top defensive players on the inside," 5-11 forward Anthony Barlow, 5-11 forward Ed Likovich and 6-4 forward Ryan Fleming; sophomores -- 5-8 point guard Nick Mastrian, the coach's son, 5-11 guard Greg Mentrek, 6-0 forward Marty Heben, 5-1 guard Dante Marshall, 6-0 forward Charlie Farragher, 6-2 forward Jens Johnson, Dan's younger brother, and 5-9 guard Chris Clark.
Mastrian also an entirely rebuilt coaching staff, including junior varsity coach Rick Ladjevich, varsity assistant Jeremy Rupnik, and varsity assistant and freshman coach Greg Evans.
Ladjevich previously served as an assistant to Nick Cannone at Wilmington and was a star player during his days at West Middlesex, while Rupnik and Evans are both former Hornet standouts.
As for the league race?
"I think this should be Sharon's year," Mastrian said. "They've been grooming those kids for this year. Class AAA overall is going to be very competitive. The senior group at all four schools is very strong. Grove City has a great program and Don Fee does a great job. And you can't ignore the force at Slippery Rock, Ben Zajac." -- By Herald sports editor Jeff Greenburg
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