Joe Koch / Tri-State Sports & News Service
Rich and Debbie Marusic joined other proud parents recently in the stands of Palumbo Center for the WPIAL basketball championships … but for them, the experience has become somewhat “routine.”
For the Marusics, all five of their children have competed for a WPIAL basketball title as Vincentian Academy students.
On March 1, they watched son Robbie help coach Vincentian to a WPIAL Class A boys championship with an 86-74 victory against Clairton.
The next morning, the Marusics were back at Palumbo Center to watch youngest daughter Sarah come off the bench in Vincentian’s 53-46 victory against Serra Catholic to claim the WPIAL Class A girls title.
The parents and their five children — Rich, Becky, Rachel, Robbie and Sarah — watched proudly as the Royals struck gold in both WPIAL championship games. For this McCandless family, it marked yet another trip to a District 7 finale.
The Vincentian boys bowed out in the PIAA tournament in the second round, losing a tough 92-85 decision to Bishop Carroll last week. The Royals finished 26-2, with both losses coming against Carroll of Ebensburg.
The girls team advanced to the PIAA championship game at noon Saturday in Hershey where it will play Tri-Valley. The Royals defeated Bishop Guilfoyle, 45-40, Tuesday in the semifinals.
Three of the Marusics — Rich, Becky and Rachel — played on Royals teams that lost in the WPIAL title game. But Robbie was on the 2011 squad that defeated Lincoln Park, 67-61, for the championship.
Sarah was on the Royals varsity team a year ago as a freshman when Vincentian rallied to beat North Catholic, 54-50, in the 2012 championship game. But she missed the playoffs when she sustained a broken hand about a month before the title game. This year, she came off the bench when the Royals won the girls championship for the second time in a row.
“It’s been one of the highlights of our lives,” said Rich Marusic, the co-owner of Ruby’s Dry Cleaners and Sparkle Cleaners. “It’s something you can share with the kids. It started with Rich, and we would take the younger ones to watch him. It’s gone full circle because now the older ones are watching Sarah. It’s been an incredible bonding experience.”
Debbie Marusic appreciates the on-court achievements of her children. She has watched them play since each was in the fourth grade.
“The outcome didn’t matter,” she said. “We are just so proud of them just to get [to Palumbo Center]. Not a lot of people get to experience this. It’s been incredible. I was just as nervous for all of them from Richie to Sarah. I’ve grown to love [basketball] and to love watching them as they’ve grown and matured and what it’s taught them.”
Rich, the Marusics’ oldest son, graduated in 2005 and was on the Vincentian team that lost to Sewickley Academy, 56-39, in the WPIAL championship game. He played for current North Hills coach Buzz Gabos. He said there never was any pressure for his younger siblings to get into basketball.
“They [got into it] on their own,” he said of his siblings. “We’ve always been a basketball family. My dad was involved. [My parents and siblings] always came to watch us play in grade school and things like that. It was just in their blood. That’s the way we are.”
Becky Marusic, who played on the 2007 team that lost to North Catholic, 61-35, in the girls championship game, had the interesting circumstance of playing for three coaches in four years.
Jenny Miller was the coach in Becky’s first two years, and Sam Salih took over when she was a junior. Current coach Ron Moncrief started his tenure in the 2006-07 season, Becky’s senior year. Change, she noted, was a constant.
“Three entirely different systems,” she said. “You didn’t get to transition [from one year to the next.”
Becky played one season with younger sister Rachel, who gave up basketball after the 2007 season to focus on her interest in the school’s arts program.
North Catholic maintained the edge while the two older Marusic sisters were playing, but Rachel said she could see momentum starting to shift.
“They had so much potential,” she said of the Royals. “Just seeing the younger talent on the team coming up, I could tell that we were going to beat [North Catholic] at some point. Absolutely, we laid the foundation. It’s cool to see from when I was playing to now and seeing the girls on Sarah’s team and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
While the older three Marusics did reach the title game, victory was out of their respective grasps by double-digit margins. All of that changed with the Royals boys team of 2011 as Robbie came off the bench in Vincentian’s victory against Lincoln Park. He received his second gold medal last week as the team’s ninth-grade boys coach and a varsity assistant for coach George Yokitis.
Winning as a coach was a wonderful experience, Robbie said, but it pales to the enjoyment of the one he has as a player.
“That [2011 championship] meant a lot more because I knew that even though I wasn’t putting the points on the board or getting rebounds, I was pushing my team on and off the floor to become better,” he said. “Because I was physically a part of [the team], that was an amazing moment. As a coach, I had a much different role.”
The youngest Marusic, Sarah, could wind up with the most WPIAL medals in her family as a player. The Royals girls team loses just one starter from a squad that improved to 26-1 with a first-round PIAA victory against Keystone, 58-31, last Saturday at Gateway. Vincentian defeated Berlin Brothersvalley in a second-round game last week, also at Hempfield Area High.
She and her fellow sophomores have set a goal.
“We want to leave in our senior year with four WPIAL titles and three state titles,” Sarah said. “We still have a lot of work to do, and we need to make sure that we take it one game at a time and get to that goal like it’s [pieces to a puzzle].”
She’s also mindful of what has taken place with her siblings and what it will mean when they have family reunions decades from now.
“I can’t put it into words how awesome it will be that we’re going to be able to talk about something we’ve been able to experience,” Sarah said. “It has brought us closer as a family and how special it has been to each and every one of us.”