Lebo teams look to shine in new gym

Published Dec 18, 2013 at 11:38 am (Updated Dec 18, 2013 at 11:38 am)

Two weeks into the winter sports season and Mt. Lebanon has found a new home with the opening of its new athletic facility, which is part of the school district’s $109 million high school renovation project.

“I can’t say enough about the new facilities,” enthused athletic director John Grogam. “We are very excited about the opportunities they will provide our student athletes.

“To date, things are going well. It’s nice to now be in the facilities to have the opportunity to “live” in them. We are learning as we go and I’m sure we will find better ways to use and organize the spaces.”

In addition to a main gymnasium and natatorium that features an eight-lane swimming pool, the building houses a place for the wrestling team as well as locker rooms that will be used for the football team.

Additionally, there are expanded treatment areas for trainers to aid athletes in their recovery from injuries. That has UPMC Sports Medicine athletic trainer Dan Stechley excited. He has been with Mt. Lebanon for 11 years. He is overwhelmed by the space in which he has to operate.

“I actually have my own office now,” he laughed, citing the facility’s expanded area. “I think we’ve tripled in size, Stechley added. “It’s a huge improvement from our previous space.

The biggest plus, Stechley says, is that all the sports are in one place and so are all the athletes. “That’s kind of special,” he said. “Plus it allows us to take care of the athletes.”

The coaches, who direct the basketball players, also have positive comments about the building, even though they are still getting acquainted with their new home. Because they have had limited practice sessions in the gym, the Lebo ladies are still getting acclimated to their new surroundings. The Blue Devils christened their gym with a 50-32 victory against Canon-McMillan last week.

“It’s not a home-court advantage yet,” said head coach Dori Oldaker. “Obviously though, we are pleased to be in this new facility. It’s beautiful. We love it.”

Tony Ranalli had rave reviews for the gym, which has a seating capacity of 1,850. He keeps the books for the hoop teams. While Ranalli joked that he doesn’t use much space, he said that his spot at the scorers’ table is “fine” with him.

Of the gym, he offered, “It’s great. It’s simple. It’s what we needed. Once they get all the banners up, it will be a showcase place.”

For the Lebo men, the gym was the place for Jonny David to showcase his skills. He christened the gym with a record, 42-point performance in the Blue Devils’ 66-35 win over Johnstown. He scored the team’s first 16 points as he attempted only 18 field goals. Ironically, David hit the game-winning 3-point field goal against Canon-McMillan when Lebo closed its old gym last Februay.

“Jonny had a great night,” said his father, Joe, who also coaches the boys’ team. “It was interesting that he opened the new gym.

“It is very exciting to be in the new facility, although I will miss the South Gym,” David noted. “We are looking to create some great memories in the new gym.”

Just coaching his son is memorable for David. “As a father, I am proud of the work ethic he has and in him as a young man,” he said. “Jonny will be asked to do a lot for us this year.”

Despite losing their next three games, only one other at home, the Lebo men will have to do more in order to compete in the always challenging Section 4-AAA. After falling to Central Catholic, 51-42, and North Allegheny, 85-49, the Blue Devils open league play with a 41-36 loss to Peters Township. David tossed in 16 tallies while Tim Swoope paced PT with 11 markers.

The Blue Devils are a young team with little varsity experience. Their roster features two seniors, Matt Collins and Jake Champagne, who did not play for the team last year.

Though Max Li tore his ACL, the senior is attempting to play with conservative treatment, says David. “He will most likely be on and off through the year based upon how his knee is feeling.”

In addition to the young David, Lebo also returns Eddie Jankins, a sophomore. Because of their development during the summer months, juniors Patrick Ehland, Thomas Gladden and Brendan Carse “have opportunities,” says David, who will also rely upon freshmen Mark Lamendola and Sean Witte.

“Our goals remain the same each year,” said David of battling for section, WPIAL and state titles, “but most importantly continuing to improve with each practice and game.

“As a coach this year will be a fun challenge to develop (the players) individually and collectively. They are a great group of young men and will be a fun group to watch this year and the years to come.”

Improvement is the objective of the Lebo ladies, too, even though they return three starters—Christina Ehland, Margie McCaffrey and Madeleine Collins – from last year’s WPIAL Final Four and PIAA playoff club.

In their win over Canon-Mac, McCaffrey and Collins tossed in 16 and 10 tallies. Olivia Lorusso paced the Lady Macs with 14 markers.

“Canon-McMillan,” said Oldaker, “No. 1 is a talented team. They have great athletes, who are multi-talented. It was a test right out of the gate. Good competition for us. They exposed some of our weaknesses and we have to iron out those issues.”

The Blue Devils clearly have no issues playing on the road. They opened the season in the North Allegheny tournament, upsetting the host club, 60-58, on a buzzer beater and defeating Altoona, 59-49. Lebo also played Peters Township Monday night on the road, posting a positive decision, 63-54. Lebo is 4-0 overall and host defending WPIAL champion, Bethel Park, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 2 to tip off the new year.

While Anna Miller and Maura Wallace join McCaffrey, Ehland and Collins in the starting rotation, the Blue Devils rely on a “total team effort” says Oldaker. “All 18 girls need to chip in for us to be successful.”

Lebo is also relying upon Megan McGrady, Angie Gyurina, Mila Block, Sophia Klaber, Allison Earley, Kate Sramac, Silvic Rudick, McKenzie Bushee, Kylie Cook, Sarah Walters, Fabi Shipley, Julia Rabenick and Abby Hartman.”

“Experience will help us,” Oldaker noted of her veterans from last year’s 24-4 club. “We do have girls who have a great deal of experience, particularly in big games.

“But, it’s that old cliché,” she continued. “Our goal is to get better every day. Our girls will work on separating our weaknesses and turning them into strengths.”

And, with more time in the new gym, Lebo’s new facility will prove an asset, indeed.

“When we get a crowd in here,” said Ranalli, “this place will be loud. It’s going to be a great asset.”

“It’s nice and bright,” added Stechley. “It definitely has a lot a plusses.”

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