It wasn’t a storybook season.
But it was certainly one to remember.
The Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team wasn’t perfect.
The Raiders faced their share of adversity. They saw teammates get hurt and others walk away. They suffered through a six-game losing streak in Catholic League play that saw them lose a few in heartbreaking fashion. And they had some growing pains as new players were shuffled into the lineup.
But the only thing the seniors on this year’s team are upset about is the season is over and they’ll never play together representing their school again.
“This was a great year for us, I don’t think anyone expected us to play the way we did at the end and we showed everyone that we were a good team,” said senior guard Jerry Weiss, who went from being one of the first guys in off the bench early in the season to a starter down the stretch. “Everything about this team, I love. I expected us to do really well in the playoffs, and we did. It ended a little early and I wish we were still playing, but we had a great year.”
In many ways, the Raiders did have a great year.
They won seven games in a row during their Catholic League schedule and won a third-place game in the District 12 Class 5A playoffs when they knocked off Martin Luther King.
They then bested West Chester East in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Moon 44-36 last week in the second round in Chambersburg.
It wasn’t the way they wanted it to end, but the team couldn’t be upset with the end result considering all of the stuff they went through to get there.
“This team showed a lot of heart, especially at the end of the season,” said senior point guard Ja’Quill Stone, who was in his third year as a member of the Ryan rotation. “I was really proud of them, especially the younger guys. The seniors were supposed to lead the way, and I think we did, and the younger guys really played well.
“They were thrown right in, some of them didn’t even expect to play, but they had to, we needed them. I think they’ll definitely get to the Palestra next year or in two years because the future is really bright here. They have a lot of guys who can play and they’re only going to get better after this year.”
Stone knows his stuff.
While the Raiders were certainly led by Stone, Weiss and fellow senior Colin Reed, they couldn’t do it alone. That’s where junior Gediminas Mokseckas and sophomores Aaron Lemon-Warren and Dom Vazquez came through.
Mokseckas and Lemon-Warren were starters all season and both came through by earning All-Catholic nominations. Vazquez was originally a junior varsity player, but he got the call up midway through the season and became a key reserve who sometimes saw starter minutes.
“When we lost a few players, the younger guys were huge,” Stone said. “We would get fatigued because we didn’t have a big bench, but we had guys who could play, and guys who wanted to help us. They pushed us to be better.”
This was a complete reversal for Stone, who two years ago was a sophomore on a team that went to the state semifinals. While he was learning to play Catholic League basketball, he was getting help from seniors like Izaiah Brockington, Matiss Kulackovskis and Chris Palantino. This year, he tried to do for the younger guys what those guys did for him. And he hopes it pays off the same way.
“They were great leaders,” Stone said. “Coach Joe (Zeglinski) taught me how to be a leader and how to be a better player, but I also learned how to be a leader from the older guys. That’s how it’s done. You have to learn from the guys above you.”
The lessons aren’t the only things this year’s team took away from their older teammates.
Friendship might be the biggest gift they got from their elders.
“The guys we played with who graduated were really big supporters of our team this year,” said Weiss, who is now playing on the Ryan lacrosse team and will make a decision on what sport he will play in college soon. “Our game was streamed (on Facebook), and I sent the link out to a lot of the guys and they watched. We would text them and let them know how we were doing. They still supported us.
“That’s the biggest thing (Zeglinski) wants, he wants us to be a family. He wants everyone to be close. He puts that above everything. And we did.”
According to Stone, that’s exactly what made this season so special.
“The other seniors, Colin gave us so much energy and Jerry is just so much fun to be around,” said Stone, who will play at Woodstock Academy, a prep school in Connecticut, next year. “He picked me up whenever I was feeling down. He is a great teammate and he’s funny.
“I’m going to miss everything about playing here. I came here after my freshman year and at the time, I didn’t know anything about the school. I loved it as soon as I got here. I’m really going to miss it.”
They’re done playing, but not done caring.
“Next year, we’ll be watching like the guys watched us,” Weiss said. “We’ll be friends for life.”