Plenty of familiar faces stood in this handshake line.
As the final game of the local college basketball regular season ended, Wilkes and King’s players came together after another battle — one that dates back to their high school days.
On this day, it was Pittston Area’s Steve Stravinski hitting a critical shot at the end to help lift Wilkes over King’s. The Monarchs, meanwhile, had standout performances from two Crestwood grads, brothers John and Chris Fazzini.
“It’s awesome,” Stravinski said. “I’ve played against John and Chris for many years, and I told them after the game, it’s been very fun playing against them.”
This basketball season saw 16 Wyoming Valley Conference alumni staying home to play for Luzerne County’s three NCAA programs — King’s, Wilkes and Misericordia.
Across both men’s and women’s programs, 10 suited up for King’s while Wilkes and Misericordia had three apiece.
For J.P. Andrejko, coach of the King’s men’s team, there’s a personal connection. Andrejko starred at Bishop Hoban before becoming an All-American at The University of Scranton. He is also a member of the Plains Sports Hall of Fame.
“For me, it’s always a point (to recruit the WVC) because I’m a local guy myself,” Andrejko said. “And I always try to get some of the best local talent we can get. I always think our local guys bring a toughness that this valley breeds in all of us — a competitiveness that is kind of special.”
The Monarchs had five WVC alums on their roster this season, with the Fazzini brothers in the starting lineup the entire season. Coughlin’s Nate Oliver served as a 3-point specialist off the bench along with freshman Jake Barber (Hanover Area) and sophomore Mike Prociak (Holy Redeemer).
On the women’s side, the Lady Monarchs featured plenty of local talent. In a late-season game at Misericordia, coach Brian Donoghue started Olivia Hoffman (Wyoming Valley West), Cayle Spencer (Lake-Lehman), Alexis Steeber (Berwick) and Tara Zdancewicz (Wyoming Valley West). Dallas’ Maggie Michael also came in off the bench.
“All from the Valley Conference,” Donoghue said. “They’re all going to have good careers or have had good careers. Tara’s really played her best basketball and Olivia, Alexis and Cayle are growing into it.
“We’ve always said that if there’s somebody (locally) we thought was a solid college player, that we wanted to be involved in their recruitment,” he continued. “We can’t get everybody but, at the same token, we want to be involved with everybody, or as many as possible.”
Hoffman, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, even set multiple school records this winter. Her 10 blocks against Wilkes in January broke a 17-year-old mark. She finished the year with 96 blocks, 10 more than anyone else in program history.
She wasn’t the only WVC grad turning heads by swatting away shots. At Misericordia, Tunkhannock alum James Hawk also came up with 10 blocks in a game to break a school record — one he set himself a year ago. The 6-foot-10 sophomore is already the program’s career leader in blocks after just two seasons.
“Ten blocks in a game? I mean, what else can you say?” said Cougars coach Willie Chandler, a Misericordia and Scranton High School grad. “He’s been playing great.”
While Hawk has been a fixture in the Cougars’ starting lineup, Pittston Area’s Tyler McGarry gradually carved out a bigger role toward the end of his freshman season. McGarry was a big part of Misericordia’s impressive 3-point barrage in February.
Fellow Pittston Area freshman Liz Waleski was in a similar spot for the Misericordia women’s team, leading the Cougars from behind the arc, hitting nearly 40 percent of her 3-pointers.
Two of four former Patriots, along with Stravinski and Mason Gross at Wilkes, played for local NCAA colleges this past season.
A senior, Stravinski drew praise over four years from coach Izzi Metz and his predecessor at Wilkes, Jerry Rickrode.
“I don’t want to stop coaching him,” Metz said. “Steve’s been great since I’ve been here. He does so much that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s much more than just a shooter — he’s a rebounder, a good defender and a playmaker. And he’s shown that out there.”
On the women’s side, Lake-Lehman’s Emily Sutton joined the Lady Colonels midway through the season and quickly worked her way into the rotation.
Nearly all the former WVC players made an impact for their schools in 2015-16. And their coaches expect that to continue.
“I enjoy having them on our team,” Andrejko said. “We will continue to recruit the area and try to get the best players we can.”