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Two great county basketball coaches put on a clinic

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PITTSBURGH — Western Pennsylvania high school basketball fans got a treat Saturday.

Two of them, actually.

Fans in attendance at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center got to witness two coaching greats do what they do best — not only win, but win a WPIAL championship.

Neshannock High girls basketball coach Luann Grybowski captured her fourth WPIAL championship with a 47-42 Class 3A win over Shady Side Academy in the first game of the day. Grybowski, in her 39th season on the bench, is 653-291. She is 179-67 in 10 seasons at Neshannock. Her first three titles came at New Castle.

Next up was Red Hurricane boys coach Ralph Blundo. Blundo coached New Castle to a 60-54 come-from-behind win over Quaker Valley in the Class 4A game.

Blundo is 223-31 in nine seasons as the New Castle boys coach. In nine seasons, his teams have reached at least the WPIAL semifinals every year. Blundo also is 6-0 in the WPIAL championship game and 1-0 in the state championship game. He also fashioned a 26-2 mark in one season at George Junior Republic for a 249-33 career mark.

Not too shabby, for either coach.

Grybowski won her championships at New Castle with Division I talent. Jaleesa Sams and Logan Hartman each continued their career at the Division I level. Grybowski took over at Neshannock and is finding success there coaching players that excel in multiple sports.

Blundo has led the ’Canes to a pair of three-peats. The first time winning all three against Hampton and this current three-game roll coming against Quaker Valley. The Quakers won both regular season meetings against New Castle last year and this year. But Blundo’s teams turned the tables on the Quakers both years in the WPIAL championship game.

Going into this season, Blundo was facing quite a challenge. New Castle’s top seven players from last year’s team graduated. Also, in Blundo’s first eight years at the helm he coached a player with the last name of Hooker. Malik Hooker, Marquel Hooker and Marcus Hooker all starred for the ‘Canes and all surpassed the 1,000-point plateau. All three earned all-state status as well.

How would New Castle fare this year? Certainly if you were going to dethrone New Castle, this would be the year. Inexperience. No returning starter averaging in double figures. Where would the scoring and leadership come from?

Ambridge couldn’t get it done in the regular season. Lost twice to the ’Canes. Quaker Valley swept New Castle. But the ‘Canes still won the WPIAL Section 2 title and earned the No. 1 seed in the district playoffs. Who can take New Castle down? Anyone? How about the Quakers in Round 3? It’s the last shot among WPIAL teams in the district playoffs.

If anyone is going to take down the ’Canes, this is the year. Quaker Valley has the last shot in district play. Experience weighs in the favor of the Quakers. And they won both prior meetings, keep that in mind. The key checkmark goes in the ‘coach’ category, though. That checkmark goes to the team with the best coach around. Last name, Blundo. First name, Ralph.

This is by far Blundo’s greatest coaching job. And his sample size isn’t a small one, either. Saturday’s championship solidified it.

Perhaps Blundo’s closest competitor for best boys basketball coach on this half of the state at the very least would be Sewickley Academy’s Win Palmer. Palmer is one of just 12 coaches in WPIAL boys basketball history to win 600 games. More wins for Palmer, sure. Longer tenure, too.

Blundo is 9 for 9 reaching the WPIAL semifinals, bagging six district titles. Palmer in these last nine years has reached the semifinals each of the last four years, going 2-1 in the WPIAL championship game. Advantage, Blundo.

Grybowski also leads the way as the top girls coach around on this half of the state. Perhaps in the whole state. When she hit 600 career wins two years ago against Beaver Falls, only Don Barth of North Catholic and De Porucznik of Mount Alvernia previously had 600 Ws among WPIAL coaches.

Grybowski has excelled at every stop along the way — Shenango, Aliquippa, New Castle and now Neshannock.

Both Blundo and Grybowski have plenty in common. Defense is a driving force for both. New Castle’s boys get after it with an intense brand of pressing. Grybowski’s teams always have displayed that defensive grit with intense pressure. Including the one constant that Grybowski preaches — keep the opposition in the 30s and the chances for victory increase.

Winning championships is another link to both coaches.

And neither would let you forget that they don’t do it alone. Blundo and Grybowski are quick to praise the job their assistants do. Rightfully so, too. Blundo’s varsity staff of Jason Doneluck, Bill Humphrey and Bob Natale have a wealth of experience and knowledge. Grybowski’s staff is comprised of former Laurel head coach Jessica Shevitz as well as Caitlyn Bleggi.

The basketball coaching rules are simple. Rule No. 1: Blundo and Grybowski are the best coaches around. Rule No. 2: See rule No. 1.

If you missed Saturday’s display, the duo will put on an encore performance Friday night in the PIAA playoffs at North Allegheny High School.

rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com

Sports Writer

Ron Poniewasz Jr. is a sports writer at the New Castle News. Email him at rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com.

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