By VINCE PELUSO
Over the past eight seasons, the Pymatuning Valley Lakers boys basketball program has won 140 games.
That spans the final four years of coach Jeremy Huber’s impressive run at PV, in which he went 107-27, followed by coach Ryan Fitch’s four years of 61-27.
Who had a front-row seat for those 140 wins? Ryan Shontz.
Shontz was the junior high coach for the final four years of Huber’s tenure before he made the jump to junior varsity coach when Fitch took over.
Now, Shontz will lead the Lakers, following the resignation of Fitch after this past season.
“It’s absolutely exciting, I’m thrilled,” Shontz said.
The Pittsburgh native said he actually applied for the job after Huber left after the 2008-09 season, but Fitch got it.
Not getting the job then turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Shontz.
“Thank God he got it, because I thought I knew a lot about basketball, but I didn’t have a clue,” he said. “I got to sit back for four years and watch him do it the right way. It was absolutely amazing to work with him. I was nervous coming in because I had never met him and I knew he was a great player, but I’m so glad he kept me on.
“For me, it was four years of coaching school. He’ll forget more basketball than I’ll ever know. I learned a ton from him.”
While Shontz has had the opportunity to watch two coaches have success at PV, he understands the 2013-14 season will be a year of transition for the program.
Gone are 1,000-point scorer Tim Cross, as well as twin brothers Austin and Grant Nowakowski, all three were starters and leaders for last year’s 18-6 PV squad.
“It’s going to be a transition year big time with losing the Nowakowskis and Cross, those guys never came off the floor,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to replace those minutes, so it’ll be a really big challenge for us.”
One thing going for Shontz will be his familiarity not only with the senior class, but the players who will be coming up from JV and filling the void left by last year’s seniors.
“This senior class was my first class in my first year teaching in the district,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know Quintin (Ratliff) and Tim (Baker) so well. I’ve gotten really familiar with them and that’s been really nice going into their senior year.”
There certainly will be adjustments made from last year’s team under Fitch to this year’s under Shontz, but the new coach said that has less to do with a difference in style and more to do with a difference in personnel.
“There are a few things that I will adjust, but that has more to do with the players he had versus the players I have,” he said. “We both want to play uptempo on offense and in your face defense. It’s new personnel so I know we need to put stuff in that can simplify things for them. But it’ll still be a lot of the same stuff.”
At this point, the middle-school math teacher said he hasn’t set any goals for the upcoming season yet, admitting he hasn’t even looked at the schedule much yet.
“I’m really not sure, but I know I got two guys coming back who are really good players (Ratliff and sophomore Chase Thurber will be the only returning starters),” he said. “So it’s about making us fit a system and new positions. Quintin and Chase are the only two starters back. They were point guards their entire lives and last year they started at the 3 and the 5 because we had Tim.
“We gotta see what puts them in the best situation to be successful. The first couple weeks of the summe,r will all be an experiment to find the best five guys. I honestly think we have 10 guys who can play, so it’s about mixing up the talent.”
So far, Shontz said he’s spent much of his time organizing the summer schedule and getting things ready for the upcoming season.
Shontz said because of the relationship he had with Fitch some of the demands placed on a first-year head coach haven’t phased him yet.
“I was caught a little off-guard when I took over the JV team, but Ryan and I shared everything as far as dealing with parents, administrators, when it was good and bad it was good and bad for both of us,” he said. “So I’m used to that stuff. I already scheduled a development camp for our third through eighth graders. We’re going to a shootout. Now I’m trying to schedule scrimmages. We already had open gyms set.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do this summer and we’ll have to load them up pretty good to make up for the lack of experience.”