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More experience could mean more victories for Greensburg Central Catholic

September 3, 2018
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Greensburg Central Catholic's Max Pisula (right) practices defensive reps with teammate Matt Hogan (left) on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 during team practice at Greensburg Central Catholic High School.

Before the start of last season -- Aaron Smetanka’s first as coach at Greensburg Central Catholic -- inexperience was a key talking point for a once-proud high school football program that was trying to return to the WPIAL playoffs.

The inexperience showed as the Centurions, after a ramped-up preseason conditioning regimen, managed to improve their record by only one game from the previous year.

But as GCC heads into its second season under the offensive-minded Smetanka, there is hope for a continued uptick in victories.

Last season, Class A GCC played with just four seniors on its roster and struggled to an overall record of 3-7 and an Eastern Conference mark of 2-5.

“The majority of my team is returning,” Smetanka said. “We only lost four seniors.”

It bodes well for a team that is trying to reverse its fortunes in the rugged Class A Eastern Conference, where the likes of perennial playoff powers Clairton and Jeannette reside.

Among the departed are James Rice, the team’s leading receiver, who is playing baseball at Mt. Aloysius, and kicker/punter Ethan Slike, a preferred walk-on at Akron, who spurned FCS offers from Robert Morris and St. Francis (Pa.).

“We lost some talent, but we’ve still got enough coming back to continue to build,” Smetanka said.

A total of 17 starters return -- eight on offense and nine on defense -- for the Centurions, who played in three WPIAL championship games during a five-year span beginning in 2005, losing to Lancaster Catholic in the PIAA Class 2A championship game in 2009.

Eventually, GCC dropped to Class A.

On offense, quarterback Max Pisula and running back Tom Voelker key the returnees. Pisula, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior, passed for 1,043 yards and eight touchdowns and added six rushing TDs last season.

“He’s going to be used to our system now, and I’m definitely expecting a lot out of him,” Smetanka said.

Voelker was the team’s leading rusher with 724 yards.

Smetanka is hopeful a healthy Bryce Kurpiel can complement the offense after the 6-2, 170-pound senior wide receiver was sidelined for a part of the 2017 season with a hamstring injury.

On the line, Matt Hogan, a 6-1, 260-pound senior tackle, is working out at guard.

“He’s a very versatile athlete,” Smetanka said. “He’s the leader of that line, and everyone looks up to him. He definitely puts the work in. If guys are stuck in a situation, he’s like another coach out there. He’s a very vocal leader.”

GCC’s two leading tackers return on defense.

Junior safety Luke Mazowiecki finished with 57 stops and four interceptions, including one for a touchdown. Outside linebacker Zach Dlugos added 55 tackles for the Centurions.

Middle linebacker Brando Ciccarelli, a 5-9, 194-pound senior, brings more leadership to the group after registering two defensive touchdowns among his two interceptions and two fumble recoveries a year ago.

Schedule

Coach: Aaron Smetanka

2017 record: 3-7, 2-5

All-time record: 339-227-18

Date, Opponent, Time

8.24, Tuscarawas C.C., Ohio, 7 p.m.

8.31, Riverview*, 7 p.m.

9.7, at Clairton*, 7 p.m.

9.14, Leechburg*, 7 p.m.

9.21, Imani Christian*, 7 p.m.

9.28, at Springdale*, 7 p.m.

10.5, Mapletown, 7 p.m.

10.12, at Jeannette*, 7 p.m.

10.19, Cornell, 7 p.m.

10.26, at Southmoreland, 7 p.m.

*Class A Eastern Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Max Pisula

89-178, 1,043 yards, 6 TDs

Rushing: Tom Voelker

135-724 yards, 2 TDs

Receiving: James Rice*

23-302 yards, 3 TDs

*Graduated

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