Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bridgers Rebuild with an Alumnus Leading the Way as Its Coach, the Ambridge Boys Team Is Rising Up as a Contender

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bridgers Rebuild with an Alumnus Leading the Way as Its Coach, the Ambridge Boys Team Is Rising Up as a Contender

Article excerpt

All Mark Jula wanted was to help rebuild Ambridge Area High School's boys basketball program.

A longtime coach, Jula returned to his alma mater last season and has quickly witnessed a turnaround by the Bridgers.

"The last game they played before I took this job and the kids even met me, they lost by 40 points," said Jula, 1971 Ambridge graduate. "We said" 'Those days are over.' The kids knew they wanted to get better and wanted to win, and they have bought into that."

After winning just four games in 2011-12, the Bridgers made their first WPIAL playoff appearance in five years last season -- Jula's first at Ambridge -- and are on the verge of earning another postseason trip this year.

"These are some awesome kids to be around and coach," said Jula, who entered this week with 493 career wins. "I've been coaching for over 30 years and have been at about seven different schools, and these guys are determined as any team I've ever had. They make it fun."

Ambridge is 12-5 overall and in third place in Section 2-AAA behind front-runner Central Valley and Blackhawk with a 5-3 mark. The Bridgers play Blackhawk Friday at home.

"We're playing with a pretty confident group," Jula said. "Ever since we returned from Las Vegas [competing in the Tarkanian Classic in December] we feel like we can win every game.

"There are moments we turn the ball over a little too much, but there also are moments we play very well. This is a young group, so that is to be expected."

With three returning junior starters in 5-foot-7 guard Stephon McGinnis, 6-4 guard Daylon Carter and 6-6 forward Keenan Baker, 6-0 senior guard Kody Nichi and 6-0 freshman guard Romnn Shell have rounded out Jula's starting five.

"We had three guys start as sophomores last season and they got a lot better," Jula said. "We knew we were going into the season with a pretty talented group but knew we needed guys to fit around them and plug guys into roles."

Shell, who is a cousin of much ballyhooed football standout Rushel Shell, a Hopewell graduate, earned a starting job after 6-3 junior forward Tyler Hendon sustained a broken hand earlier this season. Hendon, however, is expected to return to the lineup soon. …

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