South Xtra: Clancy lowers the boom on Rebels opponents

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It wasn't too long ago that the Seton-LaSalle boys basketball team was struggling to make it into the WPIAL playoffs.

Four years ago the Rebels were 4-18. Fast Forward to the present and they were 23-1 going into Wednesday's WPIAL Class AA semifinal against Beaver Falls.

What has allowed the Rebels to go from worst to first? Enter Mark "Knobby" Walsh. Walsh was hired as Seton-LaSalle's basketball coach three years ago and the program has been trending upward since then.

"There were a few years where they went through some struggles," Walsh said. "When the group of sophomores came in, we thought that could be a really good group. They are seniors now and you can see what they have done. They are reaping the benefits of what they have done."

The most impressive number for the Rebels: 24. That is the number of consecutive wins they have rattled off en route to completing their second consecutive undefeated season in Class AA Section 2 play this year.

"It has been a very rewarding season [so far]. We are so excited to be where we are and to go undefeated in the section again," Walsh said. "We are excited to be a part of this. We feel like all our hard work has paid off and to bring the program back to where it once was.

"We have a great group of young men who are unselfish. The thing with our team is that no one cares who gets the credit. They are really enjoying the experience and working together."

The Rebels were confident coming into this season and realized they had a chance to run the section slate again once they got rolling.

"When we started section play last year, we got rolling pretty good," Walsh said. "Once we got through the end and we won the section [title], we felt good.

"The same feeling happened this year once we got rolling. We have a banner in our gym for section champs so this will be a reminder for us. We have a nice streak going and we will see if the kids next year can keep it going."

With a team that has witnessed success from the start of the season, one would think it would be hard to pick out a game that would be a turning point. Not for Walsh.

On. Jan. 3, the Rebels played Wheeling Park (W.Va.) in the Cancer Research Classic at Wheeling Jesuit University. The Rebels had to play a nearly flawless game, and that they did in their 62-58 win.

"One of the best games I have ever been a part of," Walsh said. "From that point on, things started rolling and it got us kick-started. I scouted them earlier in the week and I thought to myself, 'Is my team ready to compete with what I just saw?' The crowd was huge. They announced it as Pennsylvania vs. West Virginia. We haven't played in front of a crowd that big before and that has helped us with the playoffs. We were used to playing in some noise."

The key member of this year's group that has been instrumental to getting the Rebels where they are is 5-foot-9 senior guard Dale Clancy. Clancy was a part of that sophomore class when Walsh arrived at the school three years ago, and he couldn't believe his eyes once he saw him play.

"Before I took the job, I never saw him play," Walsh said. "When I saw him for the first time, I told him the sky is the limit. His quickness with his hands and feet is unlike anything I have seen. I have seen some quickness in the 20 years I have been coaching, but nothing like him."

Although Clancy is the Rebels go-to-guy for offense -- he scored his 1,000 career point on Jan. 31 at Washington -- it is his unselfish play and leadership skills that have impressed Walsh the most.

"He was a very quiet, reserved young man as a sophomore and to see his maturation is unbelievable," Walsh said. "Dale has been exceptional.

"From a leadership standpoint he has grown as a point guard. He has always had raw athletic ability. He has learned how to look at film to make him better. To see a young kid take that leadership role is unbelievable. He can get a shot off at anytime yet he is so unselfish. That is the number one characteristic for him."

But it hasn't been all Clancy for the Rebels. It takes a team effort to go 23-1 to this point and Seton-LaSalle players have done that by controlling their emotions.

"This is an even keeled group of kids," Walsh said. "They never get extremely high after wins or low after losses. I think they love working with each other and with the staff. We work them hard but have fun with them."

No matter what happened in Wednesday's WPIAL semifinals, , the Rebels had already qualified for the PIAA playoffs (seven WPIAL teams advance to the state tournament).

"I feel so fortunate to qualify for the state playoffs and the big thing is to continue working together," Walsh said. "It is great to keep this rolling and to see the effort they put in."

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