When Conestoga players and coaches emerged from the locker room following their 45-40 win over Methacton in the PIAA District One Class AAAA second round game to clinch a berth in the upcoming PIAA Class AAAA state tournament, it was easy to see the pain was worth the gain.
Following a season in which the Pioneers lost seven Central League contests by a combined 15 points, it was a team goal led by seniors Zack Zonda and Andrew Utter to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in their career.
"This feels awesome,' said senior co-captain Zack Yonda, who finished with 15 points. "One of our goals coming into this season was to make it to the state playoffs and now that we have achieved that the rest is a bonus.'
Fellow senior co-captain Andrew Utter added, "It was definitely worth the wait. Playing with this team has been an awesome experience.'
The Pioneers got off to a strong start but each time they tried to stretch the lead, Methacton lived up to its nickname - the Warriors- and fought back. Midway through the third quarter, Conestoga built its lead to 28-18 following a Martin Dorsey lay-up. Methacton junior TJ Tornetta quickly cut the lead to seven at 28-21 with a three-pointer from the wing. It continued that way throughout the rest of the contest as the hosts tried to separate themselves but the visitors did not go away.
With Conestoga holding a slim 38-34 lead, junior co-captain Martin Dorsey came up with a big steal before feeding a streaking Andrew Diehl, who slammed it home to rock the packed house and give the hosts a 40-34 lead with 3:16 remaining.
A strong defensive effort down the stretch allowed Stoga to escape with the win to set up a quarterfinal matchup Feb. 21 at home at 7 p.m. against No. 9 seed Lower Merion, which upended eighth-seeded Penn Wood 58-43 to send the defending AAAA state champions back to the state playoffs.
"I can't wait for Friday night,' said Yonda. "I am looking forward to playing them at home.'
Similar to most teams, Conestoga's success began in practice. Thanks to hard work and dedication from the players and coaching staff, the Pioneers posted a 21-4 record, advanced to the Central League title game and earned the top seed for the district tournament.
Quoting St. Joseph's men's basketball coach Phil Martelli, Conestoga coach Mike Troy said, "If you want to see how good your team is, then look at your seniors. The fact we are sitting in the state playoffs speaks volumes to the seniors. Whether they are on the court or not at that moment, at the end of the day all the team cares about is if we win the ballgame.'
Utter added, "I try to keep a high level of intensity in practice. I try to do whatever I can to help the team win. As long as I can do that and hopefully set an example for the younger kids, all I care about is that the team wins.'