North Xtra: Shady Side rolls into WPIAL playoffs

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The upperclassmen on the Shady Side Academy boys basketball team have seen a lot of leadership turnover in their short basketball careers.

Entering this season, the Indians were on their third head coach in three years in David Vadnais, who was the former head coach of the girls team at The Ellis School before landing this job.

But whoever the coach has been over the past two decades, there has been one thing that hasn't changed. The Indians and the WPIAL playoffs basically go hand-in-hand. Over the past 19 years, the Indians have reached the playoffs 18 times and this year is no exception.

"My feeling coming in was there was pressure to make the playoffs," Vadnais said. "We have made the playoffs 18 of the last 19 years. I like that pressure. We found a way to win games. We don't want to rely on the history of the program but the pride in the school is athletics and you want to carry that on. We want to keep going."

It wasn't all a smooth ride for the first year head coach in Class AA Section 3. The Indians couldn't have pictured a more horrific start to the season, going 0-5, including losing their first two section contests against Greensburg Central Catholic and South Allegheny.

"The kids stayed positive," Vadnais said. "We tried to stay positive but it was frustrating. The toughest loss was at South Allegheny. We lost by four. We had an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. We had to still stay positive though. I give a lot of credit to the kids."

The positive thinking finally turned into some positive results on the court. The Indians (12-8, 8-4) rattled off three consecutive wins after their rough start and only suffered three more setbacks for the remainder of the season. They finished tied for second place with South Allegheny in Section 3-AA behind Greensburg Central Catholic.

They'll open play in the WPIAL tournament against Northgate (8-14, 6-6), the fourth-place team from Section 6-AA, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fox Chapel Area High School.

The Indians had no problem on the offensive side of the ball all season, but Vadnais credits the defense for stepping up for his team's turnaround.

"We have improved defensively," Vadnais said. "That has been big for us. We can score, but our defense has improved over the year. Against Jeannette we didn't give up a field goal in the fourth quarter.

"We want to commit to stopping teams. Offensively, kids are starting to find their roles and seeing how this kid can be a scorer and another can distribute."

All teams, especially playoff teams, want to end the regular season strong to pick up as much momentum as they can heading into the postseason. For the Indians a lengthy winning streak should do the trick.

"You hope to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year," Vadnais said. "We are finding ways to win, which is the most important thing, but we still know we have a lot of room for improvement."

Shady Side Academy ended the year on a six-game winning streak in their section that started on Jan. 21 against South Allegheny.

"The South Allegheny game the kids really wanted it from the time before. We were winless [the first meeting] and we let that one get away from us. They were ready to go. The kids were focused. We missed some opportunities earlier but we came out strong in the second half."

The Indians clinched their 18th playoff appearance in 19 seasons on the tale end of the streak with a 64-60 win at Serra Catholic.

"We solidified when we beat Serra Catholic," Vadnais said. "We still could have tied for fourth if they beat us. There was no celebration because we knew we could move up. It was a big game against Jeannette."

Move up is what they did in the final section game of the season last Friday. In another pay-back game, the Indians captured a tie for second in the section with a 71-65 overtime win against Jeannette. The Indians were led by Kyle Olander.

"Jeannette was a great win for us," Vadnais said. "We were down nine going into the fourth quarter. We spread the scoring around. Kyle had nine points in overtime."

For the second year in a row, Olander, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, is averaging 20 points per game, but has proven to be more than a scorer for the Indians.

"Kyle has led us," Vadnais said. "He got hurt last year and there are very few people that know about it. He goes out and quietly gets it done on a nightly basis."

Vadnais is going to make sure his players have their sights set on the here and now.

"I try to let the kids know about the past but this is also this year's team," Vadnais said. "This is their team at this point."

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