Basketball coaches can plan for a lot of things. They can map out their offenses, set up their defenses, and go over certain strategies for different types of teams.
However, there is one thing that coaches have no control over that can ultimately decide the fate of their season injuries.
Pleasant Valley and Marian, two boys' teams that will be competing in the District 11 playoffs later this month, will have to deal with two key losses to their respective teams as they try and advance through the post-season.
Recently Pleasant Valley lost one of its top scorer in guard Nick Stanovick (13.6 ppg). Stanovick is ranked among the top three players in the TIMES NEWS area in scoring average, three-pointers and free throw percentage. Although the Bears still have guard Selwyn Wright and center Marquis Brown at their disposal, Stanovick was the team's senior leader and made the group go. Now, head coach Ken Piontkowski is forced to move forward without his most experienced player.
"As a coach, especially with a kid like Stanovick who has been such a big part of the program, you don't realize that it can end that quick," said Piontkowski. "You're not ready for it. We have never done any reps without him there. He means so much, not just on the court, but with his presence.
"You have to find a way to move on. I'm not trying to be insensitive, but I have to almost act like he doesn't even exist. We addressed it as a team. We know we are going to miss those guys (including forward John Guadagna), but it is a different team now. I'd be lying if I thought we would be better without Nick, but I don't want to insult the other guys and say we are going to be worse. I said we are going to be a different team and are going to have to find different ways to win."
The injury wasn't easy for Stanovick either. Stanovick saw some time as a freshman and worked his way into a full-time starting role as a junior. Last year the Bears were knocked off in the first round of districts by Bangor on a buzzer beater and that had Stanovick looking to making a run this year. Unfortunately for him, his career has ended abruptly due to a broken foot.
"My initial reaction was utter disbelief," said Stanovick. "I couldn't comprehend the fact that my career was over after all the hard work I had put into the program. Sitting on the sidelines is definitely tougher than any in-game situation. There is a huge pit in my stomach when I am on the bench and don't have a chance to be on the court and perform. I have been a little emotional at times just because reality is starting to set in and that I will never wear the PV Blue and White again, but there is nothing I can do about it now.
"Watching the playoffs will be extremely difficult because playing in those games is what I dreamt about as a player. Since I can't play, I will try to be a tremendous teammate and motivator. I will try to tell my teammates subtle things that will help them make a bigger impact on the floor. Hopefully by doing this I can have at least some impact on the game."
Piontkowski admitted that injuries can be extremely frustrating since they simply cannot be prevented. Pleasant Valley has been on a rollercoaster since losing Stanovick, as the Bears lost to Lehighton before knocking off one of the districts' better teams in Pocono Mountain West. It has Piontkowski wondering 'what if?'
"You don't want to be the 'woe is me' guy because where does that get you, but its something I think about," said Piontkowski. "A couple of years ago Eddie Ortiz got hurt. Tommy Kresge got to play more because of an injury to Brad Ryals. I guess you don't keep track of what other teams have, but we have had more than our share of injuries.
"It just feels like we have been getting hammered with the injury bug. You can't allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself, but you almost can't help it. There are times when I wonder when am I going to catch a break and go a season without someone getting hurt?"
Meanwhile, Marian has righted the ship since losing its point guard and best defender in Anthony Agosti (8.8 ppg). The Colts were at the .500 mark in early January when Agosti was lost for the year with a broken wrist suffered during a loss to Shenandoah. The Colts lost that game to the Blue Devils and then dropped their next three after that to drop to 4-8. Marian turned things around at that point, however, winning seven of their next nine games. It qualified for districts with a recent win over Jim Thorpe.
"We were 4-4 at the time and dropped our next four while searching for someone to step up and handle the ball," said Marian head coach John Patton. "We tried a bunch of different people. Still, we kept telling the guys that there was a lot of time left and that our defense was going to have to carry us.
"Damian Richards and Nick Kweder have since filled in and have done a great job. We knew that we didn't have to be .500 overall, but just .500 in our league. We had a lot of league games left and took it one game at a time. We were able to beat Lourdes and Moravian before falling to Williams Valley, but then we bounced back and beat Tri-Valley. Before we knew it we were 9-9 and back to where we needed to be. We then got Mahanoy to get above .500, and then our win over Jim Thorpe got us into the playoffs."
Unlike Pleasant Valley, Marian has had some time to reorganize its plans and set its rotation for the upcoming playoff push. Though the Colts can't exactly replace Agosti, Patton knows that the district playoffs are a whole new season where anything can happen.
"Nobody is 11-10 or whatever their record is," Patton said. "Everyone is 0-0. We have the same guys, but a different team in the sense that other guys have stepped up. Kweder, Richards, Ryan Karnish, Anthony Pilla and Alden Whah have all stepped their games up. They are going to have to continue to do that if we want to make a run in districts."