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March 8, 2013

Boys PIAA preview: KC senior quintet savors D-10 crown

---- — There was a time it was taken for granted by graduating Golden Eagles: If you devoted 3 or 4 years to Kennedy Catholic High boys’ basketball program, you could expect District 10 championship trophies on an almost annual basis.

Kennedy Catholic captured 12 consecutive Class A crowns. But for this season’s KC quintet of seniors — Mac Hartman, Jeffrey Thompkins, Jimmy D’Onofrio, Arlen Brewer and A.J. Weldon — hardware has been hard to come by. When KC conquered Cochranton last weekend, it was the proud program’s 1st district title since 2009.

So it will be interesting to see how Kennedy Catholic comes into its  PIAA playoffs opening-round contest tonight, as the Golden Eagles (17-6) entertain Lincoln Park Charter (19-6) at Farrell High’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium at 7 p.m.

After finally regaining the gold at D-10, will KC be complacent? Or will the Golden Eagles enter the state tournament testy and primed to vindicate themselves for a 70-62 regular-season setback to Lincoln Park?

In the aftermath of last week’s win, 4th-year KC head coach Rick Mancino said, “I’ve been thinking about it for the last year: How many senior classes — from Kennedy’s program — could actually say they’ve won a District 10 championship? So many years. But I’m really excited for them and I want them to enjoy it. They earned it. ... It was a nice win for Kennedy, and I’m happy for the guys.

“ ... It’s a kids’ game, it’s a high school game,” Mancino said. “Everyone puts pressure on coaches — and we wanted to win, I’m not gonna lie. But I’m more happy that they won. I’ve been in that locker room before, and I’m sure coaches will tell you: It’s all about them. I know how hard they work. I’m excited for Mac and Jimmy — they’ve been with us for four years — and Jeff for three years, Arlen just came over this year ... A.J. came a little late, too.”

Thompkins tallied 13 points in the title tilt, despite playing with a torn left ACL that will require postseason surgery.

“I was in a lot of pain,” the soft-spoken Thompkins, when prompted, admitted. “It was sore all week, so I had to push through the pain and go out there and do it for my team.

“I never doubted it,” he said regarding his return from a 3-game hiatus. “I always had faith in myself, and my team kept pushing me, and I just had to work hard.

“This is my second time playing for a D-10 championship,” Thompkins continued. recalling, “I lost the first time (41-38 on an OT buzzer-beater to West Middlesex last year), so ... I wanted it my senior year, my last time playing. So I just went out there and did my best.

“It feels great,” Thompkins admitted. 

Echoed Hartman, “Last year we lost on a heartbreaker, so ever since then we had a goal in mind to get back here and actually win it this time. And I wouldn’t want to have done it with any other group of guys. It was a really good win, and it’s great to have the D-10 (trophy) back at Kennedy.”

“You can’t describe it, it’s just amazing! You just have to be here (in the lockerroom) to be able to know what it’s like,” D’Onofrio related. “Last year left a bitter taste in our mouths, especially because it was West Middlesex, our biggest rival. So it just made us more motivated to come back stronger this year. That was the one thing we wanted to do ... ”

One of Mancino’s teammates on KC’s 1st PIAA championship team (1985-86) — Brian Hoover — extended his congratulations amid the post-game celebration.

“I’m happy for Kennedy, because a lot of people put pressure on us,  and well deserved. It is a great program,” Mancino mused, admitting, “but we’ve got to get it back to where we were. But people don’t realize,” he added, “how great that program was. You really think about it: In 25 years they went to 10 state finals (winning 6), and that’s unbelievable!

“So whatever player comes here there’s gonna be pressure, and that’s not right.”

“Our coaches always say, just from Kennedy’s past history, that no matter who you play it’s gonna be that team’s Super Bowl, everyone’s going to try to bring their best. ... It’s just beating that ‘Kennedy’ name,” the 6-foot-6 Hartman acknowledged, “So every game you’ve gotta bring your best ’cause you know they’re gonna bring their best and try to beat you. So that’s what we try to do every game.”

When I got hired,” Mancino recalled, “I said ... we’re gonna be excited after every win. Before at Kennedy, everyone looked at the last game, but that’s now how we’re looking at it. We look at every game and get excited after every game.

“We’ve very excited about the District 10 championship, it’s huge for us! I want them to have fun and enjoy it — they deserve it!” Mancino emphasized.

Now, at least for this season, there’s one logical step in the progression:

“State championship. I think we’re on our way there,” a smiling D’Onofrio declared.

Echoed Hartman, “I agree.”

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