Sunday, January 24, 2021 | 8:01 AM
After three sub-.500 seasons for the Carlynton boys basketball program, the 2019-2020 campaign put the Cougars back on the winning track.
Carlynton finished 16-10 overall and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals and the second round of the PIAA postseason.
“Last season was a big step for our program,” Carlynton coach Mike Kozy said. “Our performance in the playoffs was special. Last year’s seniors were a special group. They helped establish an expectation of winning for our kids.”
Now the Cougars are on the hunt to build on last year’s success with a quick start to this season.
The quick start actually wasn’t quick at all. Carlynton didn’t tip off its season until Jan. 12, four playing days after most teams began this unique season.
“It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to get a game in before we were shut down in December,” Kozy said. “We were able to have both of our scrimmages in early December. Since we have such a young team, those scrimmages were important.
“Starting activities back up on Jan. 4 felt like the first day of practice again. It took the week for all of us to get back into the flow, not just with basketball, but school and life as well.”
Early signs are that this Carlynton team is one that is balanced on offense while strong on the defensive side of the floor.
In the Cougars’ third win of the season, they held Burgettstown to only 25 points.
“I would like to think that our team is quite balanced,” Kozy said. “It really is a testament to the kids. The kids are very unselfish. They root for each other and celebrate each other’s successes.”
Young guns make up nearly all of the Carlynton rotation of eight players, including juniors Khalil Kerr, Michael Kozy and Timmy Smith and sophomores Austin Milliner, Jaiden McClure, Simon Schriver and Pete Gargis and senior Collin Connor.
“Our team is still finding itself,” Kozy said. “Most of our players have little or no varsity experience. It takes time for the group to fit together, understanding roles and how to play with each other.”
Trying to play the season during a global pandemic has changed many things for every school in the nation, no matter what the sport. The new challenges can be cumbersome, but getting to play after the 2020 spring sports season was canceled is something Kozy and other do not take for granted.
“The pandemic brings a whole new perspective,” he said. “Staying healthy for basketball is not the goal. Staying healthy overall is. We take precautions and follow the guidelines put in place by our athletic department and our school.
“I’m glad that the kids are able to play basketball. They spend a lot of time at home with school online. Watching their interactions every day when they come to practice reminds me how much they have missed (in everyday life) and they continue to miss.”
Thirty-three years ago, Carlynton captured its only WPIAL boys basketball crown, beating Northgate to win the 1987-88 Class AA title. Kozy was a Cougars player of that championship team.
After coaching his alma mater from 2003-2005, Kozy is in his ninth season in his second go-around as head coach at Carlynton. He has a lot of pride in the green and gold and is excited to see how this unique season plays out.
“My goals for our team have always been play the right way, represent our school well and compete at a high level,” he said. “In a pandemic, with a new section and a young team, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. What I do know is that we have great kids, I have great coaches around me, and we are fortunate to be part of a wonderful athletic department, school and community. I look forward to seeing what we can do.”