West Shamokin adjusts to new coach, loss of 4 starters
New faces abound for West Shamokin’s girls basketball team, which hopes to build on the unprecedented success it enjoyed a season ago.
The Lady Wolves experienced their first winning season (12-9 overall) and their first playoff berth last winter. But during the offseason, coach Kirk Lorigan stepped down after just one season to focus on his new responsibilities as West Shamokin’s principal, and all but one of the Lady Wolves’ starters parted ways with the team — several of them returned to Elderton, which was closed last school year.
West Shamokin has a straightforward attitude about how to proceed: Embrace the change. And few people embody that mentality more than new coach Fred Skrocki, a long-time boys basketball coach at Schenley.
“It’s definitely been a different experience for me, and it’s been all positive,” Skrocki said. “I came into a program that basically can run by itself. … I see a difference of work ethic, of trying to get better, of listening and trying to do anything I say. I never experienced that before.”
What Skrocki did experience at Schenley was considerable success. He went 449-198 in 24 years as coach, and during his final season with Schenley — a year that included coaching future Pitt and NBA star DeJuan Blair — the Spartans claimed the PIAA Class AAAA championship.
Though West Shamokin, a school established a decade ago, is dramatically different from storied Schenley, Skrocki maintains the same expectations for his team: Contend for the playoffs and try to surpass last year’s success. He said he even told West Shamokin athletic director Tom McClaine to keep the practice schedule running through late February, just so his girls don’t write themselves off after the team’s final regular-season game.
The Lady Wolves have adjusted to Skrocki, just as they adjusted to Lorigan before the start of the 2009-10 season. They said some of Skrocki’s play terminology still confuses them, but otherwise they have grown accustomed to their latest coach.
“He’s funny and kind of quirky,” senior Megan Schink said.
West Shamokin’s on-court strategy will not change much under the new coach. The Lady Wolves thrived with defense last year — their 35.3 points-allowed per game was the fifth lowest average in Class AA — and Skrocki said he wants to maintain that trend.
Offensively, the Lady Wolves will expect Bree Wilson, the team’s lone returning starter, to put points on the board. Schink will contribute as another key shooter, and freshman Kelly Clowser will handle much of the ball-handling responsibilities as point guard.
Junior Michaela Williams provides height inside, and senior Tarah Stewart will occupy one of the forward spots.
Confidence is up among the girls this season, Stewart said. Last season’s success helped the Lady Wolves establish momentum.
But the girls agreed: To one-up last season’s achievements with such an inexperienced group of girls is a tall task.
“We’re a different team now,” Schink said. “I think expectations have to be different.”
“I think we just want to establish a foundation for the younger girls,” Wilson said.
Skrocki, as much as anyone, wants to focus on the future, particularly as it relates to program growth. Though he is proud of his time with Schenley, he is not interested in letting it overshadow his current opportunity.
“I throw all that out the window,” he said of the Schenley experience. “This is a new part of what I want to do in my career, and it’s a new challenge for me.”