Monday night’s bus ride home was memorable for the St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy boys’ basketball team.
The Wolves had just made history.
St. Joseph’s had beaten top-seeded Juniata Valley decisively to land a pair of firsts for the program: The Wolves will be playing for a District 6 title, facing Bishop Carroll at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson for the Class A crown, and they assured themselves of a PIAA tournament berth.
The team’s female counterparts were not as fortunate Monday, falling to Juniata Valley in their semifinal, but the Lady Wolves’ season is not yet done. They will meet Portage on Thursday in the consolation game — the game was moved from an originally-scheduled Wednesday contest — with the winner picking up the district’s final spot in the PIAA’s 32-team bracket.
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Getting to celebrate after the 71-54 win was special for the Wolves players for a program, and school, that is just six years old.
“I feel like it really validates all the work we put in,” Ethan Khoza said after the win Monday. “We’ve been working tirelessly since last February to be where we are now, and it’s great to see all this work pay off.”
It was a special night for not just the program but the school, and even though the Lady Wolves had lost earlier in the evening, they stayed and celebrated with the boys.
“The bus ride home was great,” coach Richard Ciambotti said. “The girls team cheered as each of the boys stepped onto the bus, which was nice to see.”
Team members also know they are continuing the building process of the program, and some of their predecessors who were a part of the program’s foundation got to enjoy the moment Monday night in Huntingdon.
“I think it means a lot to everybody who’s been here,” Ciambotti said after the game. “Just watching the maturation of the program has been really cool.”
No matter the result of Wednesday’s game in Cresson, the Wolves will be practicing for another week and playing again March 9, against a team from either District 5 or 7. That matchup will be decided by a win or loss against the Huskies.
As elated as St. Joseph’s was Monday, the Wolves had to settle their emotions and get back to work at practice Tuesday, with just one day to prepare for the district championship.
“Normally it would be hard to reset for another game,” Ciambotti said. “But because there is a championship on the line, I know these guys are focused.”
Bishop Carroll locked up its spot in the finals with iits own decisive win — 73-55 over Blacklick Valley. The Huskies program is just a bit more experienced with this stage of the season. They have won six district titles over the last two decades, and have played in the title game 13 times over that span.
It may be a new experience for St. Joseph’s, but this was the goal before the season began, and the Wolves can’t forget what got them to this point.
“We’ve been taking it one step at a time,” R.J. Marsh said after the game. “We said at the beginning of the season we want to do this, and every time we hit one of our (goals), before a game, practice, we say, ‘We got this goal coming up. Can we knock it out? Can we achieve what we wanted to?’”