HS GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Mahanoy Area celebrates 1988, 1998 state championship teams

Jan. 28—MAHANOY CITY — Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" played loudly over the speaker system in Mahanoy Area's Joseph Alansky Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon.

One by one, the members of the school's 1988 and 1998 PIAA Class A girls' basketball state championship teams walked up and hugged Alansky, the coach and mentor who guided those squads to the epitome of high school sports excellence, on an afternoon when the squads were being honored for their respective championships 35 and 25 years ago.

Needless to say, tears were flowing, but smiles were wide.

For both coach and players, it was, no doubt, the most special moment on what was a very special day.

The 1988 Golden Bears finished the season with a 32-2 record, winning the Schuylkill League Division II and District 11 championships before earning the state title with a 74-53 victory over Ferndale.

From that team, eight players, including Natalie Alansky Zawada, Lori Krukas Rizzo, Pauline Danisavich Vargo, Ceane Haughney Corbett, Marsha Kaminsky Kosar, Ali Rhoades Hobbs, Robin Wolfgang Andrewsky and Cindy Benjamin Montgomery, along with manager Nicki Mammarella, were in attendance for Saturday afternoon's recognition prior to the start of Mahanoy Area's current girls' squad's non-league game with Jim Thorpe.

Members of the 1988 team who couldn't make it included Renee Kern, Meggan Yedsena, Donna Bova, Brenda Wishnefsky, Ally Blue and Jean Marie Gavula Holman.

Joe Alansky and Sharon Seritsky were the coaches.

The 1998 squad posted a 27-4 mark, won the District 11 Class A championship, then dispatched Bishop Carroll 54-33 in the state title game.

Members of the 1998 team attending Saturday's celebration included Monica Fallon Williams (the current Mahanoy Area girls' coach), Laurie Scherer, Nicole Rafferty Keiner, Dorettah Klinger-Clark, Tammy Hutira Horning and Andi Zelonis Savlik. Unable to attend were Katie Peca Lee, Hope Hutira Green, Crystal Bickowski, Keri Morgans Holley and Tricia Breznitsky Foster.

Joe Alansky, Scott Alansky and Dot Demmer were the coaches.

Both squads, along with the 1989 state championship squad that will be honored next season, left a deep impression on their coach, who related a story from back in the day about why "Sweet Caroline" held a special place in the celebration.

"They haven't forgotten me," Joe Alansky said. "That was my song, and that's a true story.

"I did not mind if they would have a tape of songs to play while they warmed up, but I told them the second song had to be Sweet Caroline because that would allow me to relax a little bit prior to the game. That was my song. You could see it with the girls today, I got tears in my eyes. They haven't forgotten me."

Saturday's program began in the gymnasium with both squads being introduced, championship trophies on a table in front of the assembled squads, and Joe Alansky speaking briefly to the teams and fans. Festivities then moved across the hall to the cafeteria where there were more photos and more memories.

Looking back at the teams and their accomplishments, it wasn't the victories that were first for Joe Alansky. It was the players, their work ethic and their dedication.

"Primarily, I'll tell you right now, the first word that comes to my mind is how coachable they were," Joe Alansky said. "They never gave me a problem, and it just worked out right.

"One thing I constantly tell myself, I never asked God to give us a victory. The other team would probably be praying for the same thing. All I ever asked was to play to the best of our ability. If we did that, whatever happened, happened."

Joe Alansky's daughter, Natalie Alansky Zawada, played four years under her father and was a member of the 1988 state championship team.

"I was a freshman and the coaching job opened," Zawada said. "We talked it over and he said it would be very difficult, coming in, coaching you, and a lot of people would say you're playing and starting because of being coached by your father.

"We talked about it and he ended up getting the job and it was a nice four years."

During that period, the program grew and great success became the norm.

"The program was growing," Zawada said. "We had a couple difficult years, and then, by my senior year, some good players like Meggan Yedsena, along with Renee Kern, Donna Bova, Brenda Wishnefsky, Lori Krukas and myself, we were the five along with Meggan."

Her father, she said, was a demanding coach.

"It was a hard road," Zawada said. "I don't know how many people would play today for a coach like Joe Alansky or Mickey Holland.

"Practices weren't easy. We got to the grind, there were some things said, got thrown out of the gym a couple of times."

The discipline, the work, paid dividends.

"It's not only a coaching aspect, but pushing us to the future to see what we could do in life," Zawada said. "Not only getting us prepared for sports, but getting us prepared for life. That's what he did for us. He did it his way."

With the players, coaches and managers being celebrated, Joe Alansky didn't want to forget the fans, not the ones in attendance Saturday, nor the ones who were the heart and soul behind those teams so many years ago.

"They were awesome," Joe Alansky said. "I want to thank (Mahanoy Area athletic director) Eric Moucheron, for putting this all together.

"Just to get them together, and I forgot, and I'm sorry I did, to thank the fans. Primarily from 25, 30 years ago, they're probably all up above and God gave them a little break to look down on us. We're a Coal Region town and they did so much."

For his daughter, who now coaches and teaches in the Mahanoy Area School District, her teammates and members of the 1998 squad, Saturday's celebration was an opportunity to relive what was a wonderful era of their past.

"This (celebration) was awesome," Zawada said. "Sometimes, things go by the wayside.

"It brings back so many memories of girls you haven't seen. I coach here, I teach here at Mahanoy, so maybe that makes it even a little more special. For all the players, it's awesome to think about 35 years and 25 years ago we won state championships at a small school. Next year, it will be 35 years for the 1989 state championship team that will be coming back.

"It's an awesome experience, bringing it back on a day when our high school girls play and also a JV and varsity boys' game, it was planned very well. It brought a lot of people together."

Contact the writer: croth@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6025; @repheraldsports on Twitter