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Gripp, Kargo help teams enjoy success

Mirror boys basketball all-stars

Tyrone’s high school boys basketball team didn’t get the chance to end the season as a team the way it hoped after the Golden Eagles were upset in the District 6 Class 4A semifinals by Bedford, but their best player is going out on top.

Senior Damon Gripp was selected as the Altoona Mirror’s Player of the Year, 22 votes ahead of Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic sophomore Patrick Haigh.

“I’m really excited to hear that I was selected for this,” said Gripp when he was informed that he was voted as the area’s top player. “I’d like to thank the coaches and my team for always pushing me. They helped me grind. I’d like to thank my brother (Brandon) and my dad (coach George Gripp) for always staying on top of me and giving me advice and making sure everything was OK.”

While Tyrone did not achieve the team success Gripp hoped for, the Mirror’s Coach of the Year, Portage’s Travis Kargo, helped the Mustangs to their best season in school history.

Portage won the District 6 Class 2A championship, the school’s first boys basketball district title, and the Mustangs went on to beat District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic on its own home court in the PIAA quarterfinals. Portage was tied with eventual state champion Our Lady of Sacred Heart in the third quarter before falling in the state semifinals.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized, especially by your peers,” Kargo said. “There are so many quality coaches in the area, and to get selected means a lot. Obviously, I couldn’t do it without the players that I had that made it such a great run while watching these kids grow. I got so much support from my wife and my family with all the time constraints. I’m really excited.”

Portage senior Preston Rainey and junior Kaden Claar joined Gripp, Haigh and Williamsburg’s Lambert Palmer on the first team. Gripp, who will play college basketball at Lock Haven, was also a first teamer last season and third team as a sophomore. His brother, Brandon, was also a two-time first teamer and one-time third teamer from 2011-2014.

“It’s obviously a great honor, and I’m sure he would give a lot of the credit to his teammates too, because he’s been blessed with playing with a great group of guys, and he knows a big part of the award is a result of their hard work and getting him the ball in the right spots,” Tyrone coach George Gripp said. “It’s truly a great honor, and he’s definitely put the work in. He’s a gym rat, even during football season. Things didn’t end the way we wanted as a team, but this award is a great honor for him.”

Though Tyrone played just one postseason game, the Golden Eagles shined in the regular season with wins over Class 6A Williamsport, Class 3A PIAA runner-up Brookville and they led PIAA 3A champion Loyalsock Township in the final minutes before falling on the road.

“It was great playing against higher competition all season,” Damon Gripp said. “Playing teams like Loyalsock, Williamsport and Brookville was fun, and we got to show that we could compete against anyone.”

Kargo’s group also proved they could play against anyone and caught the attention of their entire community.

“It’s been crazy with people stopping by the house and everywhere I go,” Kargo said. “We energized the town as far as basketball goes. Portage has always been very supportive as a community of all our sports, but with COVID, so many people had the opportunity to watch the games at home, so it’s been amazing running into people who have told me what a great run it was. It was something special, obviously, as a coach and as a father.”

Kargo, who has coached at Portage for 21 years, was named the Mirror’s Coach of the Year in the 2014-2015 season when he led the Mustangs to their first-ever state playoff win. Kargo made the second team as a player at Portage in both the 1989-1990 and 1990-1991 seasons.

“Winning an award like this is impossible without a top-notch coaching staff,” Kargo said. “Joe Dziabo, Jade Zatek and Brian Randall were all critical components to our success this year and some other seasons as well.”

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