WEIRTON - What is a basketball coach to do when he loses five players off of a team that won a state championship two years earlier and finished with a 23-4 mark and lost in the state semifinals last season?
If you are veteran Weirton Madonna coach George Vargo, you look to pick up the pieces with a very solid junior class and get right back to work on rolling through the regular season and once again making reservations for Charleston in March.
Yes, the Blue Dons watched standouts Connor Mogan, Josh Egyud, Clay Rokisky, Drazen Frankovitch, Daniel Pietranton and Nick Battista, who Vargo says he believes was the best point-guard in the valley a season ago, all pick up diplomas last spring, but the cupboard is far from bare and a winning attitude is something that the Weirton parochial school has become accustomed to in recent years.
"This school has become winners in just about every sport over the last or so years," Vargo said. "And when you do that the younger kids learn to win and it spins off on everyone. So, yes, we lost some very good players to graduation, but we also have some very good players coming back that are also winners."
Vargo is quick to point out that some of these kids have played on the Blue Dons' football team that had loads of success this season and the baseball squad that won a state championship.
"Victory breeds success," Vargo said. "I think it all goes back to Coach (Bob) Kramer winning the state championship in football a few years ago. It is just a reflection of how far we have come as a school."
Just as the football team did, Vargo will build his basketball team around multi-talented junior Ross Comis, who is the only returning starter. Comis, a 5-foot-11, guard was the quarterback on the football team, and Vargo says that he will also be the quarterback on the basketball team.
Other letter winners returning include juniors Nate Guio (6-3, forward), Will Bowser (6-0, guard), Anthony Antione (5-10, guard), Josh Martin (7-1, center) and Tyler Ewusiak (6-3, forward/center). Andrew Huggens (6-0, forward) and Marcello Biondillo (5-11, guard) are also juniors who will figure into the mix.
The remainder of the lineup includes senior David Cullinan (6-0, forward) and sophomores Georgie Stakias (6-0, forward), Levi Shreves (5-10, guard), Marquise Jeter (5-10, guard), Nick Mazur (6-0, forward) and James Carnes (6-5, center/forward), who transferred in from Weir where he saw playing time as a freshman.
''It is a great thing to have the football team doing so well,'' Vargo said. ''But at the same time it could lead to a little bit of a struggle for us starting out because we will get such a late start. It is something that could affect us some in December, because of the lack of practice, but we will be alright as time goes on.
''By the time January rolls around we will have our basketball legs and know what to expect. Our first game is in jeopardy and will probably have to be moved, but we will be ready when we have to be.
''This team will be led by Ross Comis, who is my quarterback on the court, but we have some experienced and very good juniors to lead the way and there are also numerous sophomores who are going to get good opportunities to show what they can do.
''With practice delayed, there are some doors opened and some spots up for grabs, but we will fill them, everyone will get a chance and we will be ready to play when we need to be ready to play."