Raiders ready for unfinished business

Luke Boyd became a top scorer for the Ryan basketball team toward the end of the season last year. MARK ZIMMARO / TIMES PHOTO

They weren’t told what to say.

They were all speaking from the heart and being completely honest.

They all had the same answer.

When seasons start, all athletes are asked for what their goals are for the coming season, and most players have a long list of accomplishments they’d like to have.

Team wins are always nice, but then you throw in some individual goals. Sometimes it’s to make an all-star team. Others want to have gaudy numbers.

Not the Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team.

“Championship, Catholic League and state championship,” senior point guard Dom Vazquez said.

“We want to win, win everything, Catholic League, district and states,” senior guard Aaron Lemon-Warren said.

“We want to go as far as possible, PCL championship, then get to states,” junior guard Jalen Snead said.

“Only championships, that’s all we want,” junior guard Luke Boyd said.

So no individual goals?

“All-Catholic? No, not at all,” Boyd said. “I don’t care about All-Catholic at all. Other guys can get that, as long as we’re in the championship. I don’t think anyone here cares about that stuff. We just want to win.”

You have to understand why the Raiders want to play as many games together as possible, and deep runs in the playoffs would give them just that. Last year, they had some extreme highs and extreme lows. The highs were mostly piling up wins in the postseason, both in the Catholic League and in the state playoffs.

The lows were all off the court.

First, late in the regular season, Lemon-Warren, who was leading the Catholic League in scoring, broke his foot during practice. Coach Joe Zeglinski’s team rebounded, and made an improbable hot streak to make the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, but that’s where it ended.

It wasn’t a tough opponent that ended it, nor was it a cold shooting night. The Raiders, just like every other team in the state tournament, were knocked off by coronavirus. The PIAA delayed the playoffs a few times before eventually calling it off.

“That was really hard because we kept waiting, we thought we were going to play,” Snead said. “Coach kept telling us to have faith. They told us to believe. We all wanted to play. It was so hard waiting, and then they told us we weren’t going to play. It hurt.”

Most of the team is back this year, but there were seniors — Christian Isopi and Gediminas Mokseckas — who had their careers ended when the season was nixed.
“I was upset because it meant we didn’t get a chance to play another game with the seniors, G and Sopi,” Boyd said. “I was really close with them, so I was upset. I’ll probably never play another game with them. That was it. So that was hard.”

It also hurt because the Raiders were among the hottest teams in the state when the plug was pulled.

“It was the worst feeling in the world because we had the ball rolling, we were playing our best basketball as a team, and we really thought we could win a state championship,” Vazquez said. “When it stopped, we were playing the best defense, and that’s huge. We were a small team, but our defense was the best. We were winning because of it.”

You think the guys who were on the court were deflated?

Lemon-Warren has been out about a month longer than these guys.

“It was weird, because I wanted to play, but I was at every game, and I was so proud of what they were doing,” Lemon-Warren said. “I was so happy for them. I really wished I could play, but I wanted them to win. I wanted them to go as far as they could. I love those guys.”

Now, the wait is nearly over.

The Raiders get back to business Feb. 13 when they visit Lansdale Catholic. It’s a little later than expected. Games were slated to start Jan. 30, but many schools had to delay the start because of coronavirus cases in the school.

“I wanted them to test all of us, because we’re all fine, but they couldn’t do that,” Vazquez said. “And I understand, they’re being smart but I really want to play. It’s like we haven’t played in so long together. Not against other teams. I am so ready to get back.”

When play finally does start, the Raiders have what it takes to pick up right where they left off.

Lemon-Warren is back, and all of the experience the other guys got stepping up in his absence will be ready to roll. Ryan also added Christian Tomasco, a 6-foot-9 senior who starred at Bishop Eustace last year.

“I think defensively, we’ll play great again,” Snead said. “We will do exactly what we did last year, and now Christian is a rim protector. He’s good. He came right in and it was like he was here the whole time.”

“That’s the best part about this team, we’re a team,” Lemon-Warren said. “Guys who just got here, like Christian, guys who are here now, the younger guys, and the guys who graduated last year or even before that. It’s a family. That’s what Ryan is about.”

This year, all teams will have to stay focused.

The only thing sure about life these days is nothing is for sure, and there will be cancellations, games changed, moved and who knows what else.

The team is ready for that.

“As a program; we acknowledge the challenges and adjustments that will be made daily this season; our mindset is to control what is in front of us and enjoy each moment we have on the court together,” Zeglinski said. “I am very proud of how together the team has been throughout these months of uncertainty. Their spirit has not been broken, and I am proud of them for that. We feel like there is unfinished business and I am looking forward to seeing them out on the court together again.”

And the leaders are ready to see that through.

“I’m more of a leader by example, but this team isn’t too hard to lead,” Vazquez said. “We’re very close. We played together. I’ve been playing with Aaron since freshman year here and in AAU. The other guys, they’re the same way. We all have the same goal. We all want to do the same things. I’ll be vocal when I need to be.”

“I am vocal,” Lemon-Warren said. “I’ll tell people if they’re not doing what they should be doing. If they’re not playing defense or they’re not playing hard. I’m a competitor, I love to compete. And we all know it. We had a practice and we were competing. It was very competitive. We were really intense. But after practice, we all went out to eat together. We love it.

“I’m going to do everything I can this year to win a championship, not just for me, but for coach. Not just when I was hurt, but especially when I was hurt, from sophomore year until now, he’s had my back. I have his.”

And nothing will satisfy this team other than a title.

“There are other great teams, but I think we can win,” Snead said. “I’ll do my part and I know everyone else will do theirs. If we do that, we can beat anyone, even teams with bigger names. We’re a team.”