Never Give Up.

Giovanna Jones, Co-Ediotr in Chief

“Never give up.” An attitude exemplified through passion, grit, and determination to reach a common goal. The 2022-23 Greater Latrobe Boys Basketball team began this season knowing that this season was meant to be a season of growth. Throughout the season, the goal was to be section champions and make the WPIAL Basketball Playoff Tournament. This attitude was not only necessary, but is what made the main difference against the toughest of  opponents. 

Head Coach Wetzel describes their schedule as “daunting.” No win was handed to them. No loss was without a fight. The team had to fight to earn each and every single win. Many nights, the boys could have packed things in, but they refused to give up. With an overall record of 8-14 and 3-7 in conference play, the Cats just missed qualifying for the playoffs after a tough section loss to the Penn Trafford Warriors, in what became the very last home game for four influential seniors. 

Coach Wetzel, although disappointed about the season’s tough ending, positively reflects on the accomplishments and growth his boys made. “We knew this season was just part of the process,” said Wetzel. Competing in a section primarily dominated by star senior players, the underclassmen of the team were forced to step up. 

Coming into the season, the big question was “Can these young guys take on the roles of upperclassmen?” For many of them, it was difficult, but they learned as the season went on. 

The underclassmen, including juniors JaTawn Williams and Darius Davis, alongside sophomores John Wetzel, Max Butler, Alex Tatsch, and Jack Drnjevich, each earned lots of minutes on the court in high stress games. They have proved their “never give up mentality” and what they were willing to do at practice in order to perform and do their jobs. Coach Wetzel strongly believes in the progression and growth his boys have made this year and feels that the “seeds have definitely been planted for future success” towards goals of being section champions and making playoffs. 

The boys have so much potential and they wouldn’t have experienced so much growth without the guidance and mentorship from specifically the 2023 senior class. Dante Basciano, Landon Butler, Drew Kozuch, and Tyler Mondock strived for greatness and their personas  have heavily influenced the future of the teams in season to come.

 Coach Wetzel describes his 2023 graduating seniors as true teammates who “truly cared about the team” and always “put the team above themselves.” Going into future seasons each boy will be missed for not only the person they came into the program as, but for their personal development and leadership on the court up until the very last game. This special group of seniors included multiple “distinct personalities” from the quiet ones to the jokesters and each one brought something different to the table. 

Landon Butler’s role has changed into senior captain, being the main leader on and off the court amongst his teammates and in the eyes of his coaches. His leadership on the court has impacted the underclassmen and given them a role model to not only look up to, but someone to strive and work to be like in the future.  Butler said, “I tried to be a great leader for all the underclassmen so in a couple of years they too know how to be one.” Although this task was challenging for him, it grew to be something so impactful on the underclassmen.

Butler truly stepped up and into his leadership role this season on the court by “consistently performing every single night,” according to Wetzel. Some of the underclassmen, though talented, “lack the consistency” that Landon has. The pressure on his individual performance was a driving factor in his overall success. Off the court, like the rest of the seniors, he was a perfect example of how a teammate should carry themselves in order to mentally prepare for tough practices and games. His younger brother Max was able to learn, first hand, the emotional side of basketball and how this journey has impacted Landon’s life. 

With the main goal of the season being to win the section and hold a playoff spot, falling short of that goal, the team can look back on the season realizing how their determination and work ethic led to a tremendous amount of growth. This season and this senior class has prepared the young underclassmen in a lot of ways. It’s given them a very clear picture of what it takes and how difficult it is to win. “It has shown them how humbling and difficult falling short can feel, and that there’s only one way to avoid that feeling,” said Coach Wetzel. The young boys have now witnessed the feeling that all high school athletes will inevitably face, that although sad, there is going to be a day where it is the last game, which is a super tough reality to face. 

As a graduating senior from the team, this season has “meant everything” to Butler because of how special this team is to him. Playing alongside his younger brother Max is something that he will remember and cherish forever. Butler will miss the exhilarating feeling of playing in the home gym, the energy from the student section,  and the incredible crowds that showed up to support the team no matter how difficult the matchup was.

Reflecting on the season, the Cats definitely have some unfinished business with tough section teams like Kiski, Franklin Regional, and Penn Trafford. Coach Wetzel said, “We are not going to endure this kind of pain and pressure without reaching a goal in the end,” and that is to be section champions and make the playoff  tournament to chase the WPIAL title. The 2023 senior class may not have been section champions this year, but when the future Cats reach those goals, this special class will be a key component to their success.