Woodland Hills has been one of the pleasant surprises early in the WPIAL boys basketball season. Despite losing to Fox Chapel, 68-45, Tuesday, the Wolverines (6-2, 2-1) have impressed so far this year. They went 4-0 in their two early season tournaments at Pine-Richland and the Snowball Tournament in Southern Garrett, Md. Before Tuesday, Woodland Hills' only loss was 60-56 Dec. 13 at Penn-Trafford.
The Wolverines' biggest win this season came Dec. 23, when they defeated Gateway, 62-59, in overtime. At the time, the Gators were the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AAAA team. Shakim Alonzo nailed a 3-pointer with two seconds left in regulation to force the extra session. Despite the Gators' lofty ranking, Woodland Hills coach Mike Decker said it was just another game. "It was a section win," he said. "Each win in the section has equal value. It really had no added value than the win against Franklin Regional [Dec. 20]."
Alonzo is best-known for his accomplishments on the football field, but the Cincinnati recruit has led the Wolverines on the basketball court, as well. He leads the team with 22.4 points per game and has topped 20 in four of six contests this season. In Woodland Hills' two losses, Alzono totalled just 22 points. "At the high school level, he's able to dominate some games due to his athletic ability," Decker said. "He can score, he can rebound, he can shoot it." Alonzo is joined by fellow football player Jaimire Dutrieulle, who plays point guard for the Wolverines.
Another former football standout also starred for the Wolverines on the court. Current New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski played only one season for Woodland Hills after transferring from Buffalo, N.Y., but made an immediate impact. At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Gronkowski was a double-double machine, and averaged 17.4 points per game. He was named to the Class AAAA All-Section 2 team.
Before Decker's arrival, the Wolverines had not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2000. They had finished last in their section every year since '06, winning a combined 16 games between '06-10. In Decker's first season last year, though, Woodland Hills went 10-12 and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. "The first thing we had to do was change the culture and bring in a culture of hard work and dedication," Decker said. "And then once we got that, we were able to establish what our standard is for hard work." Despite falling to North Allegheny, 84-36, in the first round of the WPIAL tournament, just making it to the postseason was a major step forward for the program.
Sam Werner: email@example.com