Dons Will Be Young
By RALPH COX
WEIRTON — The coaching challenge facing youthful third-year Madonna boys coach Chris Blair will be a lot different than the past two seasons as he prepares an inexperienced group for the rigors of this season.
All the players that saw significant playing time for Madonna’s final four team of a year ago are gone and Blair plunges into the season without a letterwinner. So the Blue Dons will compete this year with a bunch of untested players that will be forced to grow up quick.
Among the talented players that graduated last spring were first team all-state selection Joey Ewusiak and second team all-stater Tavon Jeter, along with Chase DiBartolomeo, who was honorable mention all-state. Other seniors picking up diplomas were Dustin Brown, Justin Canei, Hunter Payne, Jimmy Mazzone and Tim Seech. In addition, 6-foot-4 Trip Moore, a junior last year, transferred to Brooke.
Ewusiak and Jeter averaged about 20 and 18 points a game, respectively and both were 1,000-point career scorers at Madonna. They also were Madonna’s leading rebounders.
“All of those guys had a huge impact on Madonna basketball,” said Blair, who inherited them as juniors when he became head coach in 2015. “With them last year, it was the first time since our 2011 state championship team that we made it to the state tournament.
“I think it is important to note that what was important from last year is that contagious mentality. We tell our team that those kids were not only experienced, but they were hungry to play and do things the right way. We want a carryover of that mentality. They will develop a character of their own, but a lot of them got a taste of it last year and we want that to continue.”
Blair has a small group of players that did see a limited amount of varsity playing time, mostly in mop up roles last year and two seniors out for basketball for the first time.
The list of basketball program returnees includes seniors Angelo Gurrera, Tony Sellitti, who saw action as a sophomore, but was injured and unable to play last year as a junior and Giovanni Lenhart. Chayce Lemley and Vince Pulice, two standouts on the Madonna football team, are athletic and decided to give basketball a try this year. They should add maturity and quickness.
This year’s junior class includes Dom Mazur, Christian Ridgeway, Gavin Dietrich, Niko Fuscardo and A. J. Mitchell. All played on the reserve team last year
Evan Boniti, Dylan Kolb and Antonio Dadderio make up the sophomores that will dress for varsity games and two promising freshmen, Lucky Pulice and Tom Sessi have impressed Blair in the preseason.
“The cupboard is not bare,” said Blair. “We have a lot of inexperienced players but they are very eager and excited to prove themselves. They didn’t get much chance to do that last year so they’re pretty excited now that the opportunity presents itself.”
Graduation and the transfer took all of the Madonna post players.
“Dominic Mazur and Christian Ridgeway are two juniors that will make their presence known in the paint along with Lemley, who has nice size and will be an important player for us,” Blair said.
Blair said he has a promising group of players competing for playing time as the guards. They include Gurrera, who has been in the Madonna program for four years. We also have Gavin Dietrich and Evan Boniti. They all are fully capable of handling the ball, Blair said.
“We’ll see how they evolve and get better throughout the course of the season,” he said. “We also have a number of talented guards and swing men. They include Sellitti, Lenhart, Fuscardo and Mitchell. Sellitti and Lenhart will be looked at for their perimeter shooting.
“So we have a mix of young men that can handle the ball for us and get us in our offense. We have some pretty good outside shooters and we have some pretty decent sized boys that can play down low. Vince Pulice is another guy that likes to play physical.
“We’re excited, they are putting in a lot of work and the attitude is extremely high. I think these guys are excited for the opportunity to see what they are made of.
“We told them that there are no positions etched in stone this year. Everybody has the opportunity to compete in practices and scrimmages to earn minutes or starting roles. It is wide open and the competition level is high.
“We also told them that we will be patient with them. Understanding that this is basically a whole new group coming in so we’re doing a lot of teaching and working on fundamentals. It’s a slower pace to teach especially the guys that weren’t in the program the last two years. At the same time we’re asking them to be quick learners.”
Mike Battista and Josh Santik are the varsity assistants on the Madonna staff while Gary Lyons and Nate Mazur will coach the junior varsity squad.
Dec. 15: at Steub. Catholic 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16: Bridgeport 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 19: at Weir 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22: Oak Glen 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 29: Trinity * 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 30: Undo’s TBA
Jan. 4: at Wheeling Central 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 6: Beallsville 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 9: at Clay-Battelle 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12: Weir 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18: Trinity 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 19: Steub. Catholic 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20: at Bridgeport 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 24: Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 27: Williamstown ** 3 p.m.
Jan. 30: at Oak Glen 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: Linsly 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7: Valley 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10: at Magnolia noon
Feb. 20: at Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.
*Undo’s at WJU
** at Magnolia