Looking to improve on last year s three-win campaign is the Elco boys  basketball team, which consists of, front row from left, Caleb Buchmoyer, Colton
Looking to improve on last year s three-win campaign is the Elco boys basketball team, which consists of, front row from left, Caleb Buchmoyer, Colton Lawrence, Dustin Miller, Tyler Starry and Teddy Saunders. Back row are Derek Miller, Austin Davis, Cameron Paul, Brayden Smith and Robert Shultz. Missing from photo is Austin Crocker. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS EARL BRIGHTBILL )
Growing together.

That may not be the slogan for this year's Elco boys' basketball team, but it should be.

The Raiders are coming off a dismal 3-19 campaign in which they ended their season by losing 13 of their last 14 games. To make matters worse, Elco will be without its four leading scorers from last year's team for one reason or another.

Third-year head coach Brad Conners knows he could be facing another uphill climb in Section Three against competition the Raiders went 0-10 against last winter. However, Conners is staying upbeat about the prospects of this year's team.

"This was our best summer yet," he said, referring to off-season workouts. "The kids played more this summer than in the past. The kids seem to like each other and I don't see any clicks.

"Practices have been good. The intensity's been good. There's a lot of inexperience, though."

Graduation took Drew Gerberich (9.1 points per game) and Nate Litschi (7.7 ppg) from last year's team. Leading scorer Anthony Pletz (11.2 ppg) has transferred to Lebanon Catholic, and Adam Shoemaker (4.2 ppg) opted not to come out for this year's team.

Those were four starters on last year's team that only managed wins against two Section Four teams and little Blue Mountain Christian of Jonestown.

Derek Miller, a junior, and Cameron Paul, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, split starting duties last year but will be counted on heavily for minutes this season. Another starting spot will most likely be occupied by freshman Colton Lawrence, a 6-1 guard/forward.

Tyler Starry and Austin Davis are a pair of junior guards who will also see plenty of action this winter, with a crop of newcomers also fighting for playing time. That group includes Teddy Saunders, a senior guard who is a transfer from Kentucky, and Robert Shultz, a senior who is back after two years away from the program.

"They're gonna be a big part of what we're doing this year," Conners said of Saunders and Shultz. "Every kid is gonna have his shot."

Freshman Caleb Buchmoyer and junior Braden Smith round out the team.

It adds up to a lot of unknown for Conners and company.

"It's a young group," the coach said. "I'm looking for them to play defense. Defensively, I want them to push teams to the outside on the perimeter and make them shoot jump shots.

"The big thing, especially with the young kids, is preaching on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, I'd like to see us take our time with the ball and make other teams play defense."

Conners does like the athleticism of this year's team, especially with Miller, Lawrence and Shultz.

"We have a couple of kids who are quick and athletic and quick off the floor who can rebound well for their size," he said.

Robert Shultz fires a pass during a preseason drill in Myerstown. Shultz is back with the Raiders after a two-year hiatus from the program.
Robert Shultz fires a pass during a preseason drill in Myerstown. Shultz is back with the Raiders after a two-year hiatus from the program. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS EARL BRIGHTBILL)
"We have some kids who can move and are athletic and have quickness in their legs.

"We have a young group that can move. Hopefully that unity can pull us through."

With such a young and inexperienced team, leadership can sometimes be a concern, but Conners isn't worried about that with this year's bunch.

"Each kid right now is feeling it out," he said. "Robert Shultz is a great leader and leads by example and works hard. And Miller is our vocal leader.

"Each kid has his own leadership qualities. ... We're just talking about having trust and faith in each other."

Donegal returns some big kids and Lampeter-Strasburg also has several starters returning, making them the early favorites in Section Three in Conners' mind. But he also pointed to Northern Lebanon and Garden Spot as teams that could surprise.

"Top to bottom, Section Three looks tough," he said. "It will be an uphill battle for us."

With the amount of question marks on Conners' bench, it will most likely be another rebuilding year in Myerstown. But it's a job Conners is anxious to take on.

"I like what I see out of the young kids," he said. "We'll just sit and watch how this plays out."