A turnaround season at Windber High School will have one more stop for four Ramblers’ players and their coach.
First-year head coach Jude Leonardis will send off seniors Bryce Spak, Matt Barkley and Dan and Devon Tomlinson during the seventh annual AmeriServ Senior Hoops Showcase on Sunday afternoon at Pitt-Johnstown.
Leonardis coaches the South boys’ squad against the North in the 3 p.m. all-star game at the UPJ Sports Center. The girls contest will begin at 1 p.m.
“It means everything to go out with them,” said Leonardis, who led Windber to a 19-5 record, a tournament championship and an appearance in the District 5 Class AA semifinals. “I wish I could have had a couple more years with them. I’m glad we made some memories this year by having such a good year. Hopefully we can end it with two wins and send them off on a good note.”
Leonardis coached the winning West squad against the East during the District 5 Athletic Directors Association all-star game at Chestnut Ridge on March 24.
Three of his players were in that game, including Dan Tomlinson, who hit four 3-pointers.
“I told them in the D5 game that every game I go into I want to win. They’re the same way,” Leonardis said. “They don’t want to lose. But we’re going to have fun. If it gets down to the fourth quarter and it’s a close game I’m going to go to whoever has the hot hand.”
The Windber foursome will be part of a pretty solid South squad in the Showcase.
Berlin Brothersvalley’s Jake Snyder averaged 18.4 points a game and was the MVP of the District 5 all-star event with four 3-pointers. Mountaineers playmaker Trevon Ward was a key part of Berlin’s District 5 Class A title run and state playoff appearance.
District 5-AA champion Conemaugh Township is well-represented by Jeff Callihan, Jake Formica and Austin Speigle.
Shade’s Nash Walker and B.J. Spangler join fellow WestPAC players Nick Ceretta of Meyersdale, Ethan Keefer of Rockwood, and Ryan Platt of Shanksville-Stonycreek. LHAC contender Somerset has Connor Zarefoss on the team.
Spak, who averaged just under 10 points a game for the Ramblers, appreciates the opportunity to extend a special season.
“It feels good to finally get back up to where we should be at Windber,” Spak said. “Those three years when we were losing, it was rough. It was frustrating.
“We told ourselves as freshmen that whenever we became seniors we wanted to change things and do better. We did.”
Windber had a combined 25 wins in its previous three seasons. That’s only six more than this year’s squad collected.
“One of the first days I got the kids together, especially the seniors, I told them it was a big year for them because it’s their last year but also it is a big year for Windber basketball,” said Leonardis, who was hired last April. “I told them, ‘You could make a mark.’
“You could see by the year’s end how many more fans were coming. The younger kids, they sat behind the bench and emulated the players, everything they did. It was nice to see the community involved. I think they did bring Windber back and put Windber back on the map.”
Along the way, the Ramblers claimed the Windber Rotary Tournament, ending an 11-year drought. Windber had a 12-game winning streak from Jan. 9 to Feb. 10. Leonardis’ team beat Chestnut Ridge in the first round of the district playoffs before falling to eventual runner-up Northern Bedford.
“Our senior group has been playing since we were at the community building,” Spak said. “We played as a team since way back then. Coach Leonardis put us in the right situation to win.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.