Back to the Future

Basketball team reminds us much of 1985 WPIAL Champs

Drew Palmer, Sports Editor

31 years ago, the first and only WPIAL Boys Basketball Championship Latrobe has ever seen came out of the 1985 team under Coach Ray Zsolcsak. On that championship team were a few familiar names, Like Jim Biss, the father of junior guard Jake Biss, Neal Fenton, the father of senior Jack and freshman Reed, the Fenton brothers. Mr. Biss and Mr. Fenton were seniors on the 1985 team that won the title.


     Mr. Biss was also on the 1983 team that lost in the WPIAL Finals, Mr. Fenton did not make the team that year. “I got to stay down in the junior high and kind of be the man down there. It helped me grow as a player and gain confidence,” said Mr. Fenton on 1480 WCNS Carnahan’s Corner.


    In that championship game of 1985, Latrobe defeated heavy favorite, Baldwin who was 25-0 leading up to the game, and beat the previous favorite, Kiski who won the section 1 title that year. Latrobe finished third, with Norwin at second. The WPIAL tournament wasn’t easy for the Cats either. “After the second round come from behind win against USC, we believed we could actually win this thing,” said Mr. Biss on Carnahan’s Corner


    “They got talent. They are bought into the system. The difference this year is an even bigger team approach than years prior. These boys are hungry. I see them as confident but not cocky,” said Mr. Biss when asked about this years team on Carnahan’s Corner.


    Current Head Coach Brad Wetzel was a sophomore on the team that captured the title. Coach Zsolcsak described him as “One of the most explosive players in the section” at the time. Wetzel averaged 15 points per game.


    This years team is very similar to that team. Both squads were guard oriented, play a full court press at times, had a high confidence in the system, and the big men of the 1985 team were very comparable to the 2016 team.


    The 1985 team had Rich Owens and Dave Stahl while 2016 has Ryan Soisson and Tommy Kisick. 1985 had Neal and Keith Fenton, while 2016 has Jack and Reed Fenton.


    It would be safe to compare Brad Wetzel to Sean Graytok in terms of playing style, explosive guards that could get to the hoop and score. Even a Geneva scout made the comparison according to Coach Wetzel.


    The 1985 team had a player that hit 1,000 points that year, Neal Fenton. This year, Austin Butler and Sean Graytok have both done that. Keep in mind the 1985 team played in an era without the three point line.

    Both teams were battle-tested. Some of the 1985 seniors like Mr. Biss experienced the heartbreak of losing in the WPIAL semifinals of 1983.


     In 2015 players like Sean Graytok and Austin Butler remember the excruciating pain of watching time expire as they had lost in the first round of playoffs to Upper St. Clair in 2015.


     The Wildcats first loss against Norwin this year left a bitter taste in the mouth of some of the player and fans, because it was a realization of how much teams wanted to beat Latrobe and how hard it would be for the Wildcats down the stretch. “It was tough to watch because we weren’t hitting shot like we usually do. You could tell something was wrong,” said junior cheerleader Elissa Pantalone after the game in Norwin. Then the loss in the semifinals this year to Pine Richland in double overtime really was the heartbreaker that left everyone in the Plum gym shocked as Pine Richland fans and players stormed the court in celebration.


    Unfortunately the 2016 Wildcats could not capture a WPIAL title like the 1985 Cats did. The loss in the WPIAL semifinals against Pine Richland this year did not sit well with Latrobe players, fans or coaches. A game that seemed like it should have been won by the Wildcats was dominated by debateable calls and a Pine Richland team that seemed to have an equal and opposite reaction for each of Latrobe’s actions.


    The Wildcats captured the section 1 title, but for many players that was not enough. They wanted the WPIAL title, but now they turn their attention to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament where they represent the WPIAL as the third seed. No Latrobe team has ever won a state title, but they say there is a first for everything.