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JV gets new boys, girls basketball coaches

The Juniata Valley School Board finally filled its boys and girls basketball coaching positions Wednesday evening after opening the positions in March.

Alan Robinson, who had coached under previous boys coach T.J. Anderson since 2014 and was the school’s junior high head coach, will take over the boys program.

Anderson was hired as the Philipsburg-Osceola head boys basketball coach in May.

The girls team will be led by a familiar face within the school district, current teacher and former Juniata Valley head football coach, Mike Smith. Smith is the father of the recently graduated Halee Smith and rising senior basketball player Olivia Smith.

“He’s very familiar with our program and the girls,” Juniata Valley athletic director Wes Lyons said. “I also think Mike being a teacher at our school and being in the building is another benefit in a high school coach.”

Robinson also touted his familiarity with his players as a positive.

“It should be a pretty seamless transition,” Robinson said. “I know all the kids; the kids know me. Even the seniors and juniors all came through the junior high program since I have been there. The continuity and familiarity will definitely be smooth.”

Smith replaces Rachelle Hopsicker, who led the Lady Hornets to back-to-back PIAA Class 1A state championship game appearances in 2017 and 2018. A recommendation to rehire Hopsicker was on the June agenda but removed early in the meeting after she asked for more time to consider her options because she had looked into coaching elsewhere when her position was opened in March.

Smith’s time as the Juniata Valley football coach ended in 2014 after he was suspended from his teaching position following allegedly pushing a student, who was 16 at the time.

Smith told the Mirror at the time that, “the truth came out in court” prior to his reinstatement as a teacher but not as the football coach.

“The school board felt comfortable moving forward with Mike, and they are behind him looking to support him,” said Lyons when asked if the way Smith’s tenure as a football coach ended was still a concern.

Smith did not return a call or text message seeking comment on his hiring.

The Juniata Valley boys won a District 6 Class 1A title in 2019 but finished just 1-20 this past season. Robinson said he thinks his team can get things turned around quickly.

“We have a nice core of freshmen that will be coming up,” Robinson said. “They were very successful last year. The (varsity) team last year had limited experience, but they continued to grow and get better throughout the season. Those players will be much more prepared this season. I’m looking forward to being extremely competitive.”

One of the concerns voiced by the Alexandria community at the June board meeting following Anderson’s exit was the loss of his JV Stingers AAU program.

“In the immediate future, I do not have any designs recreating an AAU program down here based out of JV,” Robinson said.

With the Lakemont Park and Building II summer leagues already in progress, Robinson will have to wait to see his players get any game action.

“The window for summer leagues is obviously closed,” Robinson said. “We’ll look to take advantage of some fall opportunities whether it be in Philipsburg, Altoona or Lewistown, there should be fall leagues.”

Lyons said Robinson, who works with the Fish & Boat Commission for his profession, was an attractive candidate due to his experience working with the Juniata Valley players when they were in junior high and his time working with the elementary program.

“Over the last six years, we’ve developed a very solid program that continues to evolve,” Robinson said. “We have to build upon that and play fast and hard-nosed. It will be a fun style of basketball to watch.”

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