Despite health challenges, Columbiana’s Ron Moschella and Lowellville’s Tony Matisi have the girls teams playing well
By Tom Williams
When Ron Moschella sees Tony Matisi at Sunday’s girls basketball tournament drawing, he plans to give him a copy of the “Engine 2 Diet,” a book he swears by.
The veteran girls basketball coaches have been friends for a long time and their basketball teams (Columbiana for Moschella, Lowellville for Matisi) have been pleasant surprises this season.
The coaches also share health challenges. Moschella is recovering from bladder cancer that was detected in December 2011 and forced him to resign as Boardman High coach.
That same month, Matisi learned he has prostate cancer. Before surgery could be performed, Matisi was encouraged by his wife to take a stress test. That’s when doctors discovered a blockage in his main artery.
“I had 85 in ‘the widowmaker,’ ” said Matisi, laughing and pounding his chest. “So my wife saved my life.”
Matisi had emergency heart surgery. As for his prostate, doctors can’t remove it until he goes off blood thinners next month. In the meantime, he has been undergoing chemotherapy.
Last winter, Moschella responded rapidly to treatments. But because he had resigned and his friend Jeff Hammerton had taken over the Spartans’ program, Moschella said he wouldn’t go back at Boardman.
Columbiana came calling.
“They took a chance on an old dilapidated coach and I’ve had the best experience of my life, to be honest,” Moschella said. “Boardman was tremendous to me, but these kids and the community opened up their arms to me.
“They accepted me for what I am — sometimes, that’s not always the best, but they support the girls and they support their community.”
Lowellville (16-2, 12-0 Inter Tri-County League Tier Two) has been rolling again this season despite losing three 1,000-point scorers to graduation (Emily Carlson, Lisa Moore and Taylor Hvisdak).
Led by four-year starters Kaye Solak and Rachel Durbin, the Rockets have once again dominated league play and have clinched a tie for this season’s crown.
“They’ve been carrying us all year,” Matisi said.
Solak is closing on on 1,000 points.
Columbiana is a newcomer to Tier Two this season. Last season, the Clippers finished 6-15 playing in Tier One. This season, the Clippers are 16-2, 10-2. Clippers senior Khylea Fullum scored her 1,000th point on Thursday.
Columbiana’s only two losses were to Lowellville — 52-47 in Columbiana and 53-52 in Lowellville.
Asked how his heart did during Monday’s nail-biter, Matisi laughed.
“They fixed it, right? It’s got to be better,” he said.
Moschella has been a difference-maker in Columbiana.
“We’ve been close a long time,” said Matisi, who described coaching against Moschella as being “fabulous. We battled a long time ago [when] I was at Ursuline. “It’s like a heavyweight fight — I hate to use that cliche,” Matisi said. “But you go back and forth, you counter, you punch. You’ve got to be on top of your game because you know he’s going to take advantage of any little thing.”
Don’t be surprised if round three happens in the Division IV district tournament. The Rockets and Clippers are expected to be selected as top seeds at the South Range district site.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Columbiana and Lowellville,” Moschella said. “It’s fun. “Columbiana people are terrific — I appreciate the opportunity to coach in Columbiana.
“Hopefully we see [Lowellville] in the district[ tournament]. I think Tony wants to see us, too.”