Before making Bishop McCort a perennial District 6 Class AA championship threat, Pat Hollern was a young coach trying to revitalize the Bishop Carroll program.
The Mirror's Philip Cmor recently caught up with Hollern to talk about his days at Carroll, his father's influence and where his team fits into this season's loaded Class AA picture.
Mirror: After winning the District 6 Class AA championship last year and having a couple of the key players back from that team, how do you feel about your 8-4 start this season?
Hollern: These kids, especially Billy Hipp and Nemo Trexler, were key contributors as freshmen on a district championship team and as sophomores on a district championship team. We're just trying to figure out who we are this year. We've got a firm understanding that the past is past, and that's nice, but we've got to put our mark on this year. That's why we're trying to figure out who we are. We've had some different injuries this year and had to adjust our lineup, so we're still trying to find out what we want to be in February.
Mirror: You had a big win Friday night against Johnstown, which opened some eyes by winning at Altoona earlier in the week. What did you learn about your team that game?
Hollern: It was good to see our guys battle through and show some mental toughness, something we've talked about. The last couple of years, that's really been our strength. We had some guys who could fight through anything. We were down seven in the fourth quarter. We were in foul trouble. We were coming off a bad loss against Richland on Wednesday. It was a matter of making a few plays here and there and getting a few defensive stops, making that shot, getting that rebound. Hopefully we can become a little more consistent.
Mirror: Section 1 of the Laurel Highlands Conference has turned out to be pretty competitive this year, but your section has, too. What's it like competing in that section, and how do you feel about the overall quality of the conference?
Hollern: It reminds me of the conference when we first entered and into the late 90s. You better win all your home games and try to split on the road if you want to win the conference. It's so competitively balanced. I think the league went through a period where the fanbase was down. When we used to go to Penn Cambria, it used to be a madhouse. You better be ready to play, or they'd beat you by 20. It didn't matter who you were. The fanbases have picked back up. We were in two great environments [last] week, at Richland and at home against Johnstown, where the places were packed. I know Bishop Carroll at Penn Cambria, the place was packed. The environments are coming back. A lot of the coaches, who were new, now have been around a while. I think it's allowed for a lot of competitive games and a fun league. On any given night, anyone can knock anybody off.
Mirror: You got started as a head coach at Bishop Carroll. Although there've been a lot of personnel changes there, do you still follow and have a sentimental attachment to that school?
Hollern: No doubt. They were unbelievable to me. The first two years were a good learning experience for me and the players, and, the third year, with the opportunity to coach the Lauers, the Takacses, the Minemyers, the Bakers, the Bozellas, who worked so hard and wanted to win so badly and change the program. When we won the district championship that year, it was so satisfying, because we came from so far down. What Cosie [Aliquo] has done with the program, it's good to see. They're very good. They know how to play basketball.
Mirror: Your dad [Paul] was such a fixture at the scorers table and in the pressbox. What influence did he have on you when it came to sports?
Hollern: He was always so positive. He never talked to me about the game. He would talk to me about my court presence, my attitude. He never talked to me about how many points I scored or how many assists I had. He was more concerned with who I was on the floor. That's something we try to talk to our players about and make it not about basketball, but about people and relationships. He was always such a calm person. I'm still learning that. We would get into arguments when he was the scorekeeper and I was a wild JV coach. He'd tell me the same thing: "Just shut up and coach the team."
Mirror: Have you had a chance to look at Class AA yet in preparation for the playoffs?
Hollern: With the way the district is set up, there's no sense looking at it yet. There's so many games left to play, and, in our league, we usually hurt ourselves [in seedings]. So, no, we're more concerned about ourselves.