Commentary: Northern Cambria faces rebuilding phase

JOHNSTOWN – Northern Cambria boys basketball coach Dan Weber gave his final interview of the season Wednesday night as Semisonic’s “Closing Time” played over the audio system at the Richland High School Sports Center.

The scene couldn’t have been more symbolic.

Weber’s suit jacket was gone, the top two buttons of his shirt unbuttoned and the remnants of tears remained in his eyes.

The Colts’ 65-46 loss to Conemaugh Township in the second round of the PIAA Class AA state playoffs meant that 10 Northern Cambria seniors, including all five starters, had played their final basketball game at the school.

“You can’t make this about tonight,” said Weber as his players trudged out of the locker room with their heads hanging, trying to console each other. “You have to make it about what the past four years meant to the program and what the seniors did for our school and our basketball program.”

The senior class finished with 80 wins, three Heritage Conference championships, a District 6 Class A title last year, won two state playoff games and finished as the District 6 Class A runner-up in 2011 and the Class AA runner-up this year.

But Northern Cambria’s senior class did most of that damage by itself. The Colts’ top six players, Adam Polites, Derek Bearer, Jeff Hogan, Josh Bonatesta, Nick Lee and Alex Atkins, all will graduate this spring.

Only one underclassman, Zack Lee, played for Northern Cambria Wednesday, despite the lopsided score. Lee finished with no points, no rebounds and did not attempt a shot.

“There is going to be some rebuilding to a degree, there’s no doubt about that,” Weber said. “Any time you lose guys who started two seasons and in some cases three seasons, you are going to take a big hit.”

Northern Cambria’s girls basketball team found itself in a similar situation three years ago.

The Lady Colts were coming off an appearance in the Class A state championship game but lost star seniors Breanna Kochinsky, Janae Dunchack, Jess Rocco and Ariel Rocco. That squad has finished 6-15, 4-17 and 2-19, the past three seasons.

“It’s going to be tough for them,” Bearer said. “We’re a senior-oriented team, but I have some faith in the younger guys. They’ll get there.

“Zack Lee is going to be good. He’s a junior, he hasn’t played much, but he’s had some experience. He’ll be all right.”

Despite the lack of varsity experience next year’s Colts team will have, Northern Cambria went 13-4 at the junior varsity level this past season.

“I’m hoping they can keep it going,” Hogan said. “Hopefully Coach [Weber] will take them to some summer camps, and maybe if they work really hard, they can continue the tradition.”

One thing Northern Cambria will have going for it is a large and often raucous student fan base despite the school being so small.

“No matter what sport it is, no matter how bad they are, our fans are always there supporting our teams,” Bearer said. “They are going to struggle a couple years, but I think they’ll build back up.”

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoona or 946-7521.