‘Head coach’ Jason Rankin relishes WPIAL title with team
Mar 10, 2010

It took Jason Rankin weeks, maybe months, to become familiar with the title, “New Castle High girls basketball head coach.”

Sitting on the bench for 17 years as an assistant might have had something to do with it.

“Even now, sometimes I think about, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” Rankin said about himself.

After a 21-3 start and WPIAL Class AAA championship, Rankin and his Lady ’Canes have forgotten about their brief “adjustment period” following the resignation of longtime coach Luann Grybowski last year.

New Castle defeated Hopewell, 66-61, in overtime on Saturday to earn its fourth WPIAL championship in the last seven seasons.

The Lady ’Canes’ performance earned them the distinction of being Lawrence County’s Athletes of the Week, as selected by the New Castle News sports staff. The award is sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy.

“It was definitely one of those things that when I got started, I was kind of behind,” Rankin said, “but thankfully with the players that we had coming back, I didn’t have to start from scratch.

“It was just one of things that you had to remind yourself: my word is the final word. I’ll listen to you and take your suggestions, but in the end I have to make the decision.”

In other words, Rankin has conducted his team like a democracy.

During preseason workouts, the 1982 New Castle graduate held individual and team meetings to talk about goals for the upcoming season.

The obvious were section, district and state titles. But what the public doesn’t see is the personnel decisions that Rankin shares with his players.

When an individual was struggling with her grades this season, Rankin asked his captains how he should handle the situation. Senior Zynieckia Bester suggested the Lady ’Canes host a team study hall to help their teammate, instead of suspending her.

“That came from someone who has a 4.0 (grade point average),” Rankin said. “That was a great idea.”

Rankin’s style quickly won over his entire roster.

“I would say our team is closer this year than any other year,” Bester said. “We do more stuff as a team.”

The Lady ’Canes hang out and eat meals together “a couple times a week,” Bester said. New Castle even celebrated its WPIAL championship on Saturday with a team dinner following the bus ride home.

When asked what was the turning point of the 2009-10 campaign, Rankin and several players pointed to their two losses against Hopewell in the regular season by a combined three points.

Both defeats cost the Lady ’Canes the chance of winning back-to-back Section 2-AAA titles.

“After we lost to them, we were like, ‘We’re not losing to them again,’ ” forward LaShauna Brothers said. “We guaranteed ourselves that we were going to beat them in the WPIAL championship.”

Added Rankin, “When we lost at Hopewell, we were in a bad place. We had some kids that were just messing around. When we lost there, I don’t think that I prepared us to play our style because I lost confidence in who we were. Two of the three games we didn’t give the effort that I wanted to give.”

Considering the two losses to Hopewell and the 19-point deficit New Castle overcame in the WPIAL championship, players overwhelmingly agreed this year’s title is better than last year’s district triumph.

Rankin, who won seven previous WPIAL championships as a player and assistant coach, agrees.

“At the top, my name will be recognized as the head coach and that makes it better,” he said. “But it doesn’t take anything away from the rest of them because the rest of them are special, too.

“I can tell you something small about everyone of them that makes them special. But this one is because there was no doubt that my aspiration was to be a head coach a long time ago.”
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