With the 2013-14 basketball season nearing the midpoint, the Charleroi Area boys' team finds itself in a similar position as last season: fighting for the WPIAL Class AA Section 5 title.
The Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 section record, tied for first place with Brownsville, and were 5-3 overall before Wednesday's game at Brownsville.
The team brought back a great deal of experience, having only lost two starters from the 2012-13 campaign, in which Charleroi finished second to California in Section 5-AA.
"We felt we had a very good shot at winning the section [title]," Charleroi coach Bill Wiltz said. "We returned five lettermen, all starters this year, so we felt very confident in this year's team."
Charleroi has found success with a balanced scoring attack, as four players are currently averaging double figures in points per game. This came as a bit of a surprise, as much of the scoring figured to come from senior guard Matt Indorante.
"Fortunately, someone different has stepped up almost every night to give us that spark," Wiltz said. "At this point, we're pretty balanced, and that's a good thing."
"It makes it a lot easier on myself," Indorante said. "We have guys coming off the bench who can score 10 points. That's big for us."
Sophomore John Arnold has definitely been one of the players who has stepped up for the Cougars.
A 6-foot-7 center, he made his presence known inside with two 22-point efforts against West Greene and Belle Vernon Area. Arnold gives Charleroi an advantage in the post that the team had been missing previously.
"We've never had the big 6-foot-7 kid in the middle," Wiltz said. "Being only a sophomore, he's still learning the game, but when he gets the ball around the hoop, he definitely knows what to do with it."
"His presence on defense makes all the difference," Indorante said. "We can play tighter on defense because we know he is there waiting to block a shot."
Arnold has benefitted from the play of two experienced senior forwards, 5-10 Brandon Bowman and 6-2 Ryan Konek, helping him to improve each game.
"Bowman and Konek are two post players who have started for three years," Wiltz said. "They have been showing John the ropes. They're post presence is very good and John has been learning from them."
Although Charleroi has dominated in section play with an average margin of victory of nearly 34 points in their first three section games, the ride so far has not been without a few bumps in the road.
The team has played a more difficult non-section schedule, battling the likes of Class AAA Ringgold, Yough, Belle Vernon and Southmoreland.
"We wanted to bolster our [non-section] schedule because we felt we had a pretty good team that we wanted to get challenged," Wiltz said. "Even though we came up short on some, I felt it provided a good experience for us."
Charleroi had two key games scheduled for this week against Brownsville and Frazier postponed due to weather. Brownsville is also 3-0 in the section, and Frazier is not far behind at 3-1.
When the teams finally do face each other, it will be important for Charleroi to neutralize Brownsville's and Frazier's hot shooting.
"We're going to need to defend," Wiltz said. "Both teams have pretty decent 3-point shooters. We're going to have to defend the '3' ball, and really the only good way we can do that is to play good man-to-man [defense]."
When the games are played, they could be key to determining who wins the Section 5-AA title.
"Coach always told us the only team that can beat us is ourselves," Indorante said. "I honestly feel we should go undefeated [in section play], but we are not looking past any teams. It would be a huge win for us if we can beat Brownsville."
Jordan Greer: firstname.lastname@example.org