The Ellwood City boys and girls basketball teams will both tip-off play this weekend to start their respective 2019-20 seasons. The boys will travel for two non-section games while the girls will travel to Montour for a Tip-Off Tournament.
For the Lady Wolverines, bouncing back from a sub-500 season last year (Class 3A, Section-1) will be a focal point. The team was a couple possessions away from winning 7-8 games according to head coach Marc Heil and the players realize how close they are to a playoff berth.
“I fully expect our team to bounce back from last season and make a big jump in our section this year,” said Heil. “We’re coming off a challenging season last year in which we only won 3 games. However, I did not have any seniors so I return my entire roster and add a talented 9th grade class. We will not only be more experienced this year, but we will be a much bigger and longer team than a year ago.”
For the boys, head coach Steve Antuono is expecting a lot from his veteran players – specifically Ryan Gibbons, Steve Antuono Jr., Alexander Roth, and Milo Sesti.
“These are the players that game the most game experience for me at this point at the Varsity level. I’m looking for them to have leadership roles on and off the court,” said Antuono. “If we are going to meet our goals and expectations that we have set for ourselves those four guys will have to lead us along with Sammy DeCaprio and Danny Ditri and a rising freshman in Joe Roth.”
With winter sports scheduling pushed back due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and high school schedules in flux, players and coaches are facing challenges in preparing for the season. Heil gathered opportunities while Antuono lauds the school district for their preparedness. Both coaches stress their players to make the most of each day.
“Coaching during this pandemic has certainly been challenging given the restrictions placed down by not only the government but the PIAA. However, it has given us an opportunity over the summer and into practices to focus on individual skill development, which is something this team benefited greatly from,” said Heil. “Our girls know not to take anything for granted given the uncertainty of the winter sports season so they come in every day and make the most of each workout.”
“Our school board and district have prepared well for the pandemic to keep us as safe as possible. We have many supplies and a list of protocols to follow daily and the custodians have kept everything clean,” said Antuono. “The toughest part is the unknown. You never know when the phone rings what’s going to happen! We can’t assume tomorrow we will all be together at practice. The day to day of the unknown is the hardest part. The kids have been great and have followed the guidelines. I’m very proud of them for that!”
The girls basketball team will play in a Tip-Off Classic at Montour on Friday, December 11 and Saturday, December 12, 2020. As scheduling permits, the girls will also play in a Shenango Christmas Tournament on 12/29 and 12/30 prior to the new year. In section play, the Lady Wolverines have rivalry games scheduled versus Riverside on Monday, January 18, 2021 at Lincoln High School and also Thursday February 11, 2021 at Riverside.
“Our section is filled with talented teams but I believe our toughest opponent will be North Catholic,” concluded Heil. “While Riverside is our “rival”, we circle every game on our schedule.”
The Ellwood City boys team (6-16 overall Class-3A, Section-1 last year) will look to return to the playoffs in the second season of alignment involving Beaver Falls, Lincoln Park, Aliquippa, and rival Riverside. This weekend the boys will face Eden Christina Academy on Friday, 12/11 at 7:30 PM and later, face Blackhawk on Saturday 12/12 at 1:00 PM @ Blackhawk in non-section play. In section play, the boys team will play rival Riverside on January , 2021, and later host the Panthers on January 29, 2021.
“I think fans can expect us to play hard, unselfish basketball,” concluded Antuono. “Beaver Falls and Neshannock and Laurel are probably the toughest teams in our section as we move forward. They have a lot of experience and are well coached.”
UP NEXT: EllwoodCity.org will look at the Riverside girls/boys basketball teams and their upcoming seasons. EllwoodCity.org will also be compiling and publishing a Winter Sports Q&A Series later this month
Photos courtesy of www.ecwolverines.com