Well, at least we’re playing!
It’s about two months later than usual, but local high school basketball teams, at least in the Catholic League and Catholic Academies League, are back on the court and are looking forward to strong seasons.
It’s been difficult for the teams. They’ve had a lot less practice time than normal, and ever since last season ended, it’s been hard to get gym time, especially in the city.
But the teams are ready to go, both in boys and girls hoops, and all are looking forward to getting back at it. They’re also hoping to pick up some key wins along the way.
The Raiders were one of the few teams who were impacted by coronavirus last year. They were still in contention for the 5A state championship when everything shut down. This was after Ryan won two Catholic League playoff games to advance to the semifinals, where they gave Neumann-Goretti fits before falling at the Palestra.
All of their postseason success came without the services of Aaron Lemon-Warren, who was on crutches for the final stages of the season. Lemon-Warren, who was leading the Catholic League in scoring when he got hurt, returns for his senior year, and he’s coming back with a lot of help.
Point guard Dom Vazquez, sniper Luke Boyd and defensive star Jalen Snead return to the starting lineup for the Raiders, and they’ll be joined by big man Christian Tomasco, a senior who joined the team this year.
This year’s team also has some depth, led by David Wise, a guard who saw key minutes off the bench last year. Other bench players include senior Dylan Malone, juniors Derrick Williams and JT Arpino, sophomore Michael Paris, and freshmen Jaden Murray, Darren Williams and Ryan Everett.
The season might look different due to COVID-19, but Ryan’s goals remain the same.
“Approaching this season, the excitement could not be higher for our basketball program, as this team could be our most talented team we have had at Ryan,” coach Joe Zeglinski said. “I love the versatility on offense along with the toughness we will bring on the defensive end.
“It is an experienced group that has been waiting for this moment, and their focus has not wavered. I believe they are ready to contend for a PCL championship and state championship, and I believe they will continue to rise to the occasion with whatever challenges they face along the way.”
The Crusaders got better as the season went on last year. After struggling at the start of its Catholic League schedule, Judge ended the year winning three of its final four games, and that raises expectations this year.
Coach Sean Tait does return some talented players, and that should help with the abbreviated schedule.
Guards Nahseer Johnson, Justin Blythe and Jalen Flowers lead a talented backcourt that also includes Jordan Reinhardt. Chris Brennan will also see time at guard, but will also play forward. Forward Jake Mulgrave will be the leader of the frontcourt.
Overall, Judge went 9-13 last year. The team hopes to improve on that this year.
“(We have) experience at guard with our top three scorers returning in Nahseer, Justin and Jalen,” Tait said. “We are in a unique situation with the pandemic not allowing for offseason development, so we are going to take it one day at a time, try to be better than we were the day before, and hope we are able to complete the season for our seniors.”
The Ragdolls will have a new look this year, with few returning players and a new coach. Chris Zambito takes over as the new coach and he inherits a team that finished 4-19 a season ago. The record looks worse than the season was. Ryan competed in the Catholic League Red Division, where it failed to win a game, but was forced to play the top teams in the area every night. The Ragdolls did win a playoff game, but fell in the second round.
This year, Zambito will turn to his two returning players, senior guard Luca Verello and junior Mackenzie Reed, for production on the court as well as leadership away from it.
The rest of the team will be made up of younger players, which will give the Ragdolls room to grow, but it could mean some growing pains, especially early in the year.
“We have strong leadership of Luca and Mackenzie, both lead by example with their hard work and commitment to Ryan,” Zambito said. “Except for them, we are very young and inexperienced. But we’re very excited about the potential of the sophomores and freshmen.”
The Sentinels showed a lot of improvement in the standings a year ago, finishing 4-6, and playing other games down to the wire.
This year’s squad should have great leadership in the form of senior forwards Hailey Bickle and Miyla Grant, and guard Brianna Seedes. Junior guards Bernadette Soltzman, Rachel Springer and Olivia Zolk, along with forward Gabriella Turner, were strong players on the JV team last year and will contribute this year. Sophomores Gabrielle Dever and Ciara Corcoran return after seeing varsity action as freshmen, and Meagan Leary returns to the team after missing time due to an injury. Also expected to play key minutes is freshman forward Kaidence McCormac.
“Work as a team, not as individuals,” said Little Flower coach Maureen Buchter. “This has been my motto since I became the head coach. Last year’s seniors were great role models in teaching what I preached – Five become one. Teamwork is key in this shortened season. I have faith in my senior leadership to pick up where last year’s seniors left off.
“The team will be reminded throughout this shortened season that their safety is first and foremost. If they are given the opportunity to play, be grateful for that gift. This difficult time in their lives is intended to make them better basketball players but more importantly better individuals.”
The Bambies enjoyed a solid season last year in the Blue Division, finishing the year with 14 wins and a playoff appearance. Coach Dave Schafer hopes the experience last year will pay off this year.
Leading the way for Hubert will be senior guards Alexa May and Emma McNamee, and forwards Payton Pugh and Sarah Spaeth.
Juniors who will contribute to the cause will be forwards Megan Christain and Charlotte Pugh as well as swingmen Gianna Grassifulli and Kylie Price. Sophomores seeing time will be guards MacKenzie McLaughlin, Gianna Ragucci and Mia Tobin as well as forward Kate Patterson, while freshman forward Alexis Price will also help the Bambies.
Having a veteran team, especially in a shortened season, should help the Bambies compete.
“Our quickness and maturity should allow us to dictate tempo in most of our games, which is a testament to the work ethic of every girl,” Schafer said. “We have improved each year and hope to continue on that path. Our goal coming in two years ago was to rebuild the program and we feel that we are making strides to achieve that goal. Even though this will be an abridged season, our kids feel confident and poised to take the next step forward.”
The Pandas started a little earlier than everyone else, and they’re fighting their way through the Catholic Academies League. Coach Mary Kate Magagna has a talented squad that has high hopes in the rough competition.
Seniors Timoney Lamplugh, Maddie Meretzki and Grace O’Malley will be the leaders of the team, and they should have some help in the form of juniors Katie Harmon and Morgan Cheeseman.
A tough schedule will make wins hard to come by, but Magagna couldn’t be happier with the team’s effort and work ethic.
“Our girls are an extremely coachable group,” Magagna said. “They have so much heart and come to practice and games each day wanting to get better and asking what more they can do.
“With our season usually starting in November and now starting in January, we are taking each day as it could be our last day playing together as a team and making it fun and positive as possible, especially for our senior class.”