Shortly after the best season in St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy history ended Friday night, R.J. Marsh said the Wolves have raised future expectations for the program.
Marsh and St. Joseph’s finished with a program-best 20 wins on their way to their first-ever trip to the PIAA Class A tournament, where the Wolves fell 63-51 to Shanksville-Stonycreek in the first round at Tyrone High School.
The season-ending loss came a little more than a week after St. Joseph’s played in its first District 6 championship game.
“St. Joe’s isn’t just some small school that’s a pushover,” Marsh said. “We’re going to fight for the district title year in, year out. We’ll be back next year.”
The Wolves closed out the season with a 20-8 record after Shanksville pulled away in the second half. Shanksville’s Dawson Snyder scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, while Matt Addleman added 19.
Addleman had 12 points in the third quarter to help Shanksville take a 44-33 lead into the fourth quarter. The Wolves pulled within six points three times in the final period before Snyder nailed a 3-pointer and added a layup off of a steal with less than three minutes remaining to push his team ahead 58-47.
“It just seemed like every time we kind of crawled back to a spot where we could be within striking distance, they knocked down a big shot,” SJCA coach Richard Ciambotti said.
Ciambotti was proud of more than just his team’s success this season. He said the Wolves were cohesive on the court and always encouraging each other. The bench was engaged, while the team played with energy and worked hard at practice to set a new standard for the program.
SJCA’s Ethan Khoza said it was the best year of his basketball career and the first team he’s been a part of that developed a special bond on and off the court.
“We’re always together, whether it’s at school or at practice or outside of school, at Taco Bell,” Khoza said. “We’re always together.”
That camaraderie translated to wins as the Wolves rolled through a successful regular season and into the postseason. They knocked off No. 1-seed Juniata Valley in the District 6 semifinals to reach the district championship game. The 20-win season led to plenty of trips to Taco Bell this season.
“We started that tradition this year,” Khoza said. “After every win, we’d go to Taco Bell. Some days after practice, we’ll even go. We’ve probably gone there 25 times this season. It’s just our spot now.”
The Wolves fell short in the district title game and in the first round of the state playoffs Friday night, but they’ll use those experiences to continue raising expectations. As Marsh said, St. Joseph’s plans to regularly compete for district titles.
The Wolves expect to be a factor again next year.
“I hope it inspires a hungry, talented group of underclassmen. We have a big junior class this year,” Ciambotti said. “I think you’re going to see a hungry group of seniors when they start back up in November.”
Khoza, a senior, thinks the Wolves will be better next season.
He took pride in seeing his teammates improve while helping St. Joseph’s to its best season in program history this year.
“Something that I always think about is leaving a place better than I found it, and coming in as a junior that’s what I wanted to do,” Khoza said. “I feel like as a senior, I’ve helped to be able to do that and build this program up. I think that we’ve earned a lot of respect from people this year.”
And even after the loss Friday night, the Wolves looked back fondly on their season.
“The guys just said this was the most fun they’ve ever had playing basketball, so that makes me feel really good,” Ciambotti said. “For me personally, it’s definitely the most fun coaching I’ve ever had.”