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  • January 12, 2024
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On Saturday, December 10, 1994, Mike Boyer, Joel Gonzalo, Corey Hepler, Eric Higgins, Mike Higgins, Shawn Jayman, Joe Scicchitano, and Brett Veach walked off the field at Mansion Park in Altoona as the 1994 PIAA State Football Champions. ON Monday Dec. 12th, that group, along with teammates Jared Bender, Jamie Bressi, Adam Czponis, Ken Pizzoli, Brandon Ulceski, Jeff VanDoren, Jed Gonzalo, Mike Boylan, and Ray Rothermel would defeat Shenandoah Valley by a score of 94 to 49 to give head coach John McKay his 100th victory in his short time at Mount Carmel Area. The 95 team would win the Holiday River Tournament for the second consecutive year with their 50 to 40 victory over Selinsgrove in the final. Gonzalo was named the tournament MVP with Mike Higgins and Hepler also named to all-tournament squad.

Although the start seemed very encouraging, it took a while for the Tornadoes to settle on a consistent lineup and for McKay to define their roles. After 14 games, their record stood at 8-6, but were starting to get into basketball shape. After a big 66-56 win over Shamokin, Coach McKay felt they were starting to come around. Hepler and Gonzalo scored 20 points each, Bender 19 and Ulceski 15, in a huge 81-61 win over a very good Lourdes team. The Tornadoes would go 9 and 1 the rest of the way and finish the regular season at 17-7 to qualify for the District XI playoffs.

In their opening game, the Tornadoes were led by Jared Bender’s 15 points and Hepler’s 12 and went on to defeat Penn Argyl by an 80-53 score to advance into the semi finals. The Tornadoes would draw the number pne seed from Salisbury, and, in a back and forth contest, were led by Gonzalo’s 24 points, including 5 treys, and Ulceski’s 13, as they outlasted the Falcons by a 58-51 score.

The win set up a rematch with the Tornadoes and the Catasauqua Rough Riders in the championship game. This was the same Catasauqua team that was defeated by the Big Red football team three months earlier in the District XI football championship game by a 19-0 score. In the championship game at Martz Hall, the Tornadoes used a defensive switch in the second half to hold off the Roughies by a 62-57 score. Gonzalo led the Tornadoes with 19, including 12 of 14 from the line, followed by Ulceski with 11 and Bressi and Bender with 10 and Hepler with 9. The win included great efforts from VanDoren, Higgins, Veach, and Jayman. It was the second District XI Championship for the Tornadoes, following up their 1991 effort.

The Tornadoes would advance into state play and defeated Garnet Valley by a score of 72-60, also at Martz Hall. Gonzalo again paced Big Red with 20 points and 11 assists, followed by Bender with 18 and Ulceski with 14. Bressi dominated the boards with 9 rebounds. In the Eastern quarterfinal, the Tornadoes were defeated by a terrific and experienced Delone Catholic team by a 77-62 score. The Squires dominated the boards by a 44-27 margin and were quicker off the floor. The Tornadoes finished the season with a 13-2 run and ended with a 21-8 record and second District Championship. The 21 wins rank as the second most in MCA history, behind the 27 in 1980. The 1995 Tornadoes “team first” attitude exemplified by it being the only one of MCA’s 7 District Championship teams (5 girls-2 boys) to not have a 1000 point scorer. Following the season, Gonzalo was named to the first team Reading Eagle All Anthracite team with Hepler grabbing a 4th team spot. All in all, the Tornadoes completed an extraordinary run from a late start to a District XI Championship. It would be Coach McKay’s last game after 7 successful seasons at MCA, winning 2 District championships and playing for two others.

Categories: 2015 Hall of Fame