Four seniors this year helped set the young team up for success next year.
A special senior class can mean great things for a high school athletic program.
Last year, the Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team had top players like Izaiah Brockington, Matiss Kulackovskis, Fred Taylor and Chris Palentino as seniors, and behind their leadership, the Raiders advanced to the Catholic League semifinals, as well as the semifinals of the PIAA Class 6A state playoffs.
And next year, the team will have similar hopes when players like Colin Reed, Ja’Quill Stone, Amin Bryant and Mekhi Lang will be in the final campaign of their Ryan career.
This year, the Raiders were a young team, and while they didn’t make a long run in the postseason, they did have four seniors who bridged the gap from last year’s success and the high hopes of the future.
Kevin Lezin, Brendan Scanlon, Devon Vargas and Anthony Woodard were responsible for helping teach the younger Raiders the way things needed to be done. That included doing the little things to make sure the big things would fall into place.
Another leader didn’t play, but took care of the little things. That was senior manager Nick Taylor, who has served as the manager for three seasons.
It was a role they not only enjoyed, it was a role they excelled at.
“We were playing for this year, but I’m happy the younger guys learned a lot,” said Woodard, a Frankford resident who came to Ryan after transferring from William Tennent when his family moved prior to his junior year. “I knew being here was special right after I got here, and this year was great. We didn’t go as far as we wanted, but we did pretty good.”
One of the reasons Ryan didn’t advance past the first round of the Catholic League playoffs was the strength of the league.
The Catholic League was full of talented teams. The Raiders gave the upper echelon teams in the league scares. They took first-place Bonner-Prendergast to overtime and knocked off Archbishop Wood, a team that had four Division I prospects on the roster.
And while it was about the wins, it was more about the bond the team had.
“I think we all got along, so that helped the way we play,” said Lezin, a Lawncrest native who started at forward. “Last year, when we were winning those playoff games, I learned a lot from the seniors, so I tried to teach the younger guys what i learned. It’s mostly about playing together and having each other’s back. If you do that, you’re going to be a better team because you’re playing for each other.”
They also played together to keep the program on track.
Joe Zeglinski became the team’s coach prior to the 2015 school year, and since he arrived, the Raiders have twice advanced to the Catholic League semifinals, which meant two trips to the Palestra.
“Playing there was probably the best part,” said Vargas, who lives in St. Matt’s parish. “Just going there was great. I think it made us better players because we played in big games like that.”
But it was more than just playing in that environment that made the Raiders a better basketball program.
On paper, even last year when the Raiders were playing deep into March, they probably didn’t have more talent than most of the other teams in the Catholic League. But it takes more than talent to win basketball games.
“The biggest thing (Zeglinski) taught us was to always have your teammates’ back,” said Scanlon, a Chalfont native. “We play for each other. We have guys who are talented, but the reason we were so good is because we just played as a team. That’s something the seniors on this team tried to teach to the other guys because there’s so much talent here, but we needed to show them how to use that talent to win.”
Many of the juniors on this year’s team had a hand in helping the Raiders’ memorable run a year ago, but there are newcomers to the program, including freshman Taleeq Robbins.
He didn’t get to learn from Brockington and company, but he did have this year’s seniors to serve as mentors.
“I think he’s going to be a great player,” Vargas said. “If you play as a freshman, you’re going to just get better every year. The young guys on this team were great. They wanted to learn. We just taught them what we could, what we learned.”
The Catholic League figures to be tough again with lots of returning talent, but the Raiders will be full of experience when camp opens in November.
The seniors won’t be back, but the way they see it, if the returning Raiders work hard, they could make some noise next year.
And they’ll be around to cheer and watch.
“They’ll win if they do what coach stresses,” Lezin said. “Be a family. Have each other’s back on the court and off the court. Play together. Do the little things.
“I’m going to miss a lot of things, the bus rides, the long practices, the pasta parties and winning, I’ll miss winning the most. I’ll be around to watch and I think they can win next year. They have good players and they know what to do.”
And that’s thanks in part to this year’s senior class.