South Xtra: After 5-year 'retirement,' Faust returns to lead Wash High program

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When Joe Nicolella began searching for a new basketball coach to take over Washington High School's boys program, it didn't take long before he reached out to an old friend.

Nicolella, the school's athletic director, called Ron Faust and tried to lure the former coach back to the basketball court.

"When Mark Gaither told me he was stepping down, I thought about it for a little bit and then thought: 'How about Ron?' " Nicolella said. "When we went through the logistics of him returning, we didn't hesitate to have him come back."

Faust was five years into his retirement after nearly 30 years as the Little Prexies boys basketball coach. But he was intrigued by Nicolella's offer.

"After I retired, I honestly didn't have any intentions of getting back into coaching," said Faust, who taught high school English and served as the school's athletic director before retiring in 2009. "When the opportunity was presented and my wife [Connie] heard about the idea, she encouraged me to come back.

"We had a long winter last year, so I was excited about getting out of the house more."

One of the WPIAL's most successful basketball coaches, Faust was hired in March after Gaither resigned because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Under Gaither, Washington posted a 76-42 record in five seasons and made the WPIAL playoffs four times.

Faust, 62, coached Washington from 1981-2009 and compiled a 520-192 record. In his 28-year career, he led the Prexies to two PIAA Class AA championships and four WPIAL titles, including three in a row in 1984-86. His teams also won 52 consecutive games between 1984 and 1985.

"Anyone who coached for close to 30 years wouldn't be truthful if they said they didn't miss coaching," Faust said. "When you live that type of lifestyle for so many years, you miss coaching and the competition."

Faust also is a former player and 1969 graduate of Washington.

"Ron is a Wash High guy," said Nicolella, who spent 20 years as Faust's assistant coach and will return this season as a volunteer assistant. "He knows the people and the community. He's a good fit for us and for our kids."

Faust should be pretty familiar with a few of his players' names, including sophomore Matt Popeck and his cousin, junior Anthony Popeck. Faust coached Matt's father, Chris Popeck, and Anthony's father, Mark Popeck, in the mid-1980s.

"During my retirement, I would listen to the games on the radio and check in on the scores every morning," Faust said. "The names always sound the same because I either coached or taught their mothers and fathers in school.

"I've always enjoyed that interaction with the players and the competition. Once you're a coach, you're always a coach."

Last season, the Prexies went 9-3 in Section 4-AA and finished 17-7 overall after losing to Summit Academy in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

"Sticking to the basics will be a big part of what we're going to do, especially early on," Faust said. "Like every other team, we want to have fundamentally sound players on the court."

Despite graduating five seniors from last year's roster, Faust is expected to return a few key players, including guard Nate Swart and forward DeQuay Isbell. Swart led the Prexies in scoring with 14.8 points a game as a sophomore, while Isbell chipped in with a steady 13.4 points a game his junior year.

"We just finished our summer league schedule, so I've had time to meet with the players and they were able to interact with me," Faust said. "We started in May and just finished up, so that was a good start for us.

"The players got a chance to see who I am and what I'm about, and I was able to evaluate our talent. I'm anxious to get started."

Faust, however, knows the biggest key to his team's success will be entering basketball season with an able-bodied roster.

"When you coach a Double-A school, your main concern is get your players through football season and in a healthy manner," Faust said. "We have a lot of good athletes in the school and many participate in football.

"We just want them to be healthy come basketball season."

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