Dane Pollock helps McConnellsburg turn a corner
He started in elementary school.
Then he moved on to junior high, spent a year with junior varsity, and now he's with McConnellsburg's varsity boys basketball team.
He's not a player, though. He's Dane Pollock, who took over the head coaching position at the beginning of this season and is now the Public Opinion Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
"I've had the junior group of guys (a class of eight) since they were in sixth grade," Pollock said. "I really wanted to be with this group, and now that I'm in charge of the program, I absolutely love it. I really found a niche in what I'm doing, and I just want to keep going."
Pollock's Spartans made heads turn almost as soon as the season began when they raced out to a three-game win streak. The team had won only six games the entire year prior.
But then McConnellsburg upset Tussey Mountain, 56-51, followed by a downing of Chestnut Ridge – defending District 5 Class AA champion – on the Lions' floor, and suddenly, people started to take Spartan basketball seriously.
"When we beat Tussey at home, there was a lot of momentum, because Tussey always stomps us," Pollock said. "Then when we went up to Ridge and won that game, the boys really started to believe."
But the Spartans weren't done yet. They amassed an 11-0 record before falling to Southern Fulton in a matchup surrounded by a week's worth of hype. McConnellsburg stumbled a bit, losing six of eight games, but it weathered the storm.
"When we got the excitement of getting a home playoff game, there was a lot of buzz in the community," Pollock said.
The Spartans went on to finish third in District 5 Class A and advance to the PIAA playoffs, where they put up a great fight but fell to Portage in overtime, 50-48, in the first round. They racked up 18 wins, equal to the prior three years combined. The 18-8 record was their first winning season since 2007-08.
"We really preached team and dedication," Pollock said. "When I got the job, our program was stagnant, and dedication is the first step. If we're going to turn this program around, we needed to find dedication and accountability."
Pollock started open gyms in early May and boasted that the entire team, including JV players, missed only 32 practices all season.
"It was fun being able to watch these kids just doing it the right way," Pollock said. "We weren't flashy. We were fundamental and solid, and I really saw a group of kids grow up this year."
The entire goal for Pollock this season was to turn the program around. While the Spartans made a great run and had a fine record, Rome wasn't built in a day, and McConnellsburg can't be built in a year.
Pollock is losing only one player to graduation, and is hoping that the sky is the limit for next year's team. But he knows it's a two-way street, and it's going to take work.
"It wasn't that long ago that I played, and I really listen to my players, and they respect that," Pollock said. "I also put a lot of visual things in front of them; we did a lot of film study that was never done in the past. I'm a little younger, so I feel there was a good mutual respect between myself and the team. Like I said, I wanted to stay with them, and I think they wanted to stay with me."
Pollock said he hopes to be the next Kent Hendershot, Southern Fulton's coach who just finished his 22nd season.
"I'm gonna coach for hopefully like 30 years," Pollock said. "But I'm never going to have a group like this one."
This group, after all, has been together since elementary school.