Shaler clinched its second consecutive section title Tuesday night with a dramatic 62-60 overtime win against Seneca Valley. Paired with North Allegheny's loss to Butler, the Titans (18-2, 9-1) will win the Class AAAA Section 3 title outright. Coach Paul Holzshu's squad has won 12 in a row, and its only two losses came by a combined 10 points to North Allegheny and Winston Churchill (Potomac, Md.). They have a pair of tune-up games against North Hills and Pine-Richland before kicking off the WPIAL playoffs.
The Titans have made the WPIAL playoffs 18 times in their history, but have never advanced to the title game. They've made it to the semifinals twice, in 1994 and 2001. Holzshu said he has urged his team to focus on one game at a time this season, so that once the playoffs roll around, they'll be ready for a one-and-done scenario. "If there's any slippage, particularly as you go up the bracket, there's no room for error," he said. "If you don't win, you don't advance." Last year, Shaler fell to section rival Butler in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Shaler's coach has certainly racked up enough coaching and playing experience throughout his career. Holzshu played at Gateway in the 1960s and then at Clemson. He coached at IUP, Slippery Rock, Garrett Community College (Md.), West Liberty College (W.Va.), Penn State New Kensington and Franklin Regional High School, among other stops. His most recent job before coming to Shaler was serving as the athletic director at his alma mater, Gateway. He came to the Titans in 2003, and took over the head coaching reins in the middle of the 2008-2009 season after Howie Ruppert died of a heart attack. "I've been exposed to some wonderful coaches whom I've worked under and with," Holzshu said. "I've been exposed to some wonderful players whom I've coached and coached against. It's a 40-year evolution."
Although Shaler has never advanced to a WPIAL title game, the Titans seniors know a thing or two about winning. As a freshman team, they put together a perfect 27-0 record. "Whether they've grown and matured and improved, they at least bring a little bit of an attitude and approach that they've carried over from those years," Holzshu said. Those seniors include J.P. Holtz, who Wednesday signed a Letter of Intent to play football for Pitt next season. Senior Zach Taylor has also played a key role for the Titans. While he may not always shine in the box score, Holzshu said he has been an invaluable asset to the team. "I think Zach is the glue to our team," he said. "He'll be a coach someday. He really understands the game. He really anticipates and sees plays before they happen."
Geno Thorpe played on that undefeated ninth-grade team, but as an eighth-grader. Although he grew up in the Shaler school district, he played his freshman year at Shady Side Academy. He transferred back to Shaler before last season and now leads the team at 22.8 points per game. He is verbally committed to play for Penn State next season. "Never one time in the two years that Geno played with us have I seen him take an approach where he wanted to dominate and not include his teammates," Holzshu said. "Geno is a really unselfish player." Thorpe's father, Gene, played for Fox Chapel when it won WPIAL and PIAA titles in 1977.
First Published February 3, 2012 5:00 AM