As an assistant coach the past five seasons with the successful Division III Lycoming College men's basketball team, Mark Marino said he received many overtures about high school head coaching opportunities.
But it wasn't until the Hempfield Area boys basketball coaching position became available did he decide to leave the Warriors.
The Hempfield Area School Board hired Marino, 34, as the new Spartans boys head basketball coach June 24.
"With the success that Lycoming had, I was approached numerous times," Marino said. "So I knew what I was looking for.
"I have such respect for the WPIAL. I came down here every year to recruit for Lycoming and was impressed with the talent. So I thought if I was lucky enough to get a Quad-A job in the WPIAL, I'd take it."
A Curwensville native, Marino comes to Hempfield after helping lead Lycoming to an 83-48 record during his five years under coach Guy Rancourt. Prior to his time with the Warriors, Marino was the head coach at District 4 Warrior Run High School in Turbotville, Northumberland County, for one season and was an assistant at Francis Scott Key High School in Maryland for three seasons.
"He got outstanding recommendations, especially from the head coach at [Lycoming]," Hempfield athletic director Greg Meisner said. "All the research we did on him came back positive."
Marino will be taking over a program that has won or shared the Class AAAA Section 1 title three of the past four seasons under Jim Nesser.
Nesser, who won a PIAA title at Jeannette in 2008 before coming to Hempfield, did not have his contract renewed after going 58-32 over the past four seasons.
"Coach Nesser did a fine job, but we just wanted to open the job up to make sure we were heading in the right direction," Meisner said.
The Spartans failed to win a playoff game under Nesser, and haven't notched a postseason victory since 2003. But Marino will have a talented cast in his first season that will attempt to break that streak.
The Spartans will return two all-section players in rising juniors Kason Harrell (16.4 points per game) and Tony Pilato (10 points per game).
"I think we have the talent returning to make a run at sectionals and make some noise in the WPIAL tournament," Marino said.
Marino comes from an up-tempo system at Lycoming. The Warriors point guard last season, Jerald Williams, led collegiate players of all levels in assists and finished fourth in steals.
But Marino said that doesn't necessarily mean the Spartans will be playing at a breakneck pace this upcoming season.
"In college, you recruit to your system," Marino said. "We wanted to play up-tempo, so we recruited kids to fit that.
"But in high school, you have to build your tempo around the players you have. I'd love to play up-tempo, but we'll have to see what kind of team we have and adjust."
Marino wants to get involved at the lower levels of the program so that everyone will be accustomed to his system by the time they get to the high school level.
He credited the previous regime with building the current youth program and hopes to expand it even further in the future.
"The previous staff did a tremendous job in starting a sixth-grade program all the way to kindergarten," Marino said. "I want to get involved with that and tie it all together -- kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.
"I want our varsity and junior varsity players spending time with the young kids so they all know what to shoot for."
Meisner expects it all to lead to a more successful Spartans program.
"I expect Mark to carry the torch and take us to the next level," Meisner said.