The Legacy of Mark Burkhardt
The imprint Coach Mark Burkhardt left on the Greater Latrobe Lady Wildcats Girls Basketball team will be forever remembered. The commitment that the humble tax specialist has shown to the team for many years is incredible, so it was a shock to many when he announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2022-23 season. His reason for leaving was discovered during a post game interview after the Lady Wildcats defeated Thomas Jefferson at home on Monday, February 6th. "Everyone has their expiration date", Coach stated calmly, "I told the team that the outcome of this season has no impact on my final decision".
A mess is a soft way to put the 8-14 season that the Lady Wildcats had in 2016-17, but Coach was determined to turn the whole program around. 2017-18 saw the Lady Wildcats jump to 16-6 and earn a spot in the Westernennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) playoffs. After beating Shaler 44-31, Coach Burkhardt and the Lady Wildcats marched into Gateway to take on Bethel Park in the second round, and lost 70-50. Even though this loss stung, Coach Burkhardt saw the potential that this program had and was more determined than ever. Wildcats followed that season with another winning season in 2018-19, yet the 12-9 Lady Wildcats just barely missed the playoffs. 2019-20 was another winning season for Coach Burkhardt and another season out of the WPIAL playoffs. The following season, 2020-21, was the season that everything seemed to click for the team. Coach Burkhardt and the Lady Wildcats won 5A Section 3 with a 14-3 record and earned the number 6 seed in the WPIAL playoffs. After a first round bye, the Lady Wildcats hosted South Fayette in the second round, and the Lady Wildcats won 52-47. Greater Latrobe then upset Hampton, in Hampton, 53-48. The number 6 Greater Latrobe Lady Wildcats and Coach Burkhardt had punched their ticket to the semi finals. To become one of the two teams playing in the finals at Allegheny Health Network Arena, the Lady Wildcats would have to defeat the number two seed Chartiers Valley at Chartiers Valley. Greater Latrobe fought hard, but lost to Chartiers Valley 59-43 and missed out on facing Trinity for the WPIAL Championship. Coach Burkhardt's winning culture continued into 2021-22 and saw the 18-5 Lady Wildcats enter the WPIAL playoffs as the number 7 seed. This allowed for Greater Latrobe to play Mars in the first round, and the Lady Wildcats defeated Mars 67-62. Coach Burkhardt and the Lady Wildcats fell to South Fayette, 55-40, in the next round of the playoffs. After losing star Emma Blair, Coach Burkhardt knew that the 2022-23 season would be an uphill battle, but he was able to coach the Lady Wildcats to an impressive 14-8 record and entered the 2022-23 WPIAL Playoffs as the number 13 seed. The Lady Wildcats then traveled to the hostile lands of Washington, Pennsylvania to clash with the number 4 seed Trinity Hillers. It struck midnight on this Cinderella story as the Lady Wildcats fell to the Hillers 59-66. Even though this season did not end the way Greater Latrobe wanted it to, Coach Burkhardt made sure that some of his last words for the Lady Wildcats were positive. In an exclusive interview with The Wildcats Network after the game, Coach Mark Burkhardt said that the young women on the team "...will be successful in whatever they want to do". He noted that many, if not all, the Lady Wildcats are incredible students with "...over a 4.0 grade average". This interview showed that even though his time with the team had come to a disappointing conclusion that the future of the Lady Wildcats Basketball Team is very bright.
In eight years, Coach Mark Burkhardt had six winning seasons and reached the WPIAL playoffs four times. To think that Coach Burkhardt would be able to turn around a program that was, in his own words, a mess, into a program with a winning culture just shows the excellent level of competence and leadership that Coach Mark Burkhardt instilled into the Greater Latrobe Lady Wildcats. He is noted in crediting not just himself for the glowup, but also his staff for making the team a force to be reckoned with for eight seasons. The Wildcat Network is not sure what Coach Mark Burkhardt his in store with his new found free time, but we do know that he will be greatly missed by the students who he has impacted in his years of coaching. We wish Coach good luck in all of his future endeavors and thank him for all of his hard work over the last eight seasons.