The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Columnists

May 10, 2013

MIKE KOVAK| Blending schedules a challenge for athletic directors

JOHNSTOWN — Bishop McCort basketball gets it. So does Greater Johnstown basketball.

Go ahead and count Somerset baseball among the mix. The same goes for Ligonier Valley softball and Northern Cambria volleyball.

What is it that these different programs from various locations within The Tribune-Democrat coverage area get exactly?

The art of schedule making is one thing. Blending the proper mix of league games with challenging out-of-conference contests and a few winnable games is a challenge for area athletic directors and coaches.

The realization that bulky totals under the win column don’t equate to postseason success is another. Actually, some evidence indicates a few tough losses to superior competition and big-school programs during the regular season can pay dividends in the playoffs.

Greater Johnstown boys’ basketball toughened itself with regular season trips to Mt. Lebanon and the Harrisburg area. Bishop McCort gained valuable confidence by playing Greensburg Central Catholic close on the road. Somerset basketball traveled to Virginia for a taste of competition it can’t get around here. The Golden Eagles baseball program has long taken on any challenges offered, even when the competition is outside Pennsylvania.

Stepping outside the confines of competition in districts 5 and 6, when time permits, has significant benefits.

District 7 athletic powerhouse Upper St. Clair is about four times larger than Northern Cambria, but that didn’t stop the Colts from adding the Panthers to the boys’ volleyball schedule.

Are games like that winnable? Not usually. Then again, there’s nothing to lose.

Ligonier Valley softball adopted such an attitude when making its schedule.

No stranger to postseason play, the Rams took on an ambitious slate this spring. Ligonier Valley played Class AAAA Norwin and District 7 power Greensburg-Salem. Another nondistrict game was scheduled against perennial power Sto-Rox, but weather and the impending conclusion of the regular season knocked that intriguing contest off the schedule.

“We have made every effort to play teams that are different than you see in District 6,” Ligonier Valley softball coach Mark Zimmerman said. “Some of those teams in Johnstown and Centre County are good softball teams, but we’re stepping out and playing triple-A and quad-A playoff teams. We want to get ourselves in that environment.”

Ligonier Valley lost to Norwin in extra innings. It lost to one-loss Greensburg-Salem by three runs.

But the Rams came away confident.

“Those games are definitely a help,” said Rams senior pitcher Hailey Umbaugh. “When we’re in a tight game, I have confidence in our hitters and we have confidence in each other that we’ll come through.”

Coming through is a common trait throughout the 2012-13 school year. From Richland football to Bedford soccer to basketball at Bishop Carroll and Shade, the area is nearing the end of an extraordinary year.

One way to keep getting better is to schedule bigger and better competition.

Take a cue from some of the area’s best programs and make it standard operating procedure.

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