With the calendar flipping from 2015 to 2016, we've officially reached the halfway point of the YAIAA basketball season. It has been a fast-paced, exciting first half of the season on both the girls' and boys' side of the action. So let us take a few minutes to sort everything out and highlight a few of the key storylines that have caught our attention.
Central York and York Catholic exceeding expectations: Expectations weren't exactly sky high after the Irish went 11-13 last season, lost top scorer Paul Martello to graduation and hired a first-year head coach. But here they are at 7-2 and leading Division III. Credit rookie head coach Blaine Claiborne with transforming the traditionally methodical Irish offense into the second-highest scoring offense in the league.
What's the difference this year? Transfers Melik Martin and D'Andre Davis have burst onto the scene, averaging 15 and 13 points, respectively, and Andrew Forjan has increased his scoring average from 9.1 to 12.6. York Catholic's next test comes Tuesday when the Irish travel to Hanover (9-1, 5-0 Division III) in a battle for first place in the division.
At Central, the Panthers were tasked with replacing their top scorer (Sam Saxton) and their top rebounder (Charlie Gingrich) in addition to facing one of the toughest schedules among all Class AAAA teams in District 3. Seven or eight wins through their first 11 games would've been impressive enough, yet Central sits at 10-1. Eight of those wins came against teams with a record of .500 or better, including Penn Manor, Cedar Crest, Spring Grove and Hempfield.
Jared Wagner has increased his scoring output from 11.6 to 17.1, and sharpshooting Nathan Markey is up from 5.9 last season to 13.1 this season. Onterio Edmonds and Niko Sobestanovich have flashed potential at times as well. The schedule gets tougher for Central down the stretch, however, with games against William Penn (twice), West York, Bishop McDevitt and Spring Grove still remaining.
Rockets flying high: Well hello, Mr. Brooks. Led by star guard Eli Brooks, Spring Grove has started 6-1 and finally snapped a 26-game losing streak to William Penn. Brooks has picked up nine Division I scholarship offers and is averaging nearly 29 points per game. Considering that high school games are 32 minutes, Brooks' scoring output is equivalent to an NBA player averaging more than 40 points.
Darin Gordon, who recently committed to York College, is scoring 15.6 points per game and the Rockets are third in team offense. We expected the Rockets to take another step forward after increasing their win totals each of the past three seasons, but they've been even more impressive than expected. Big matchups against Chambersburg, Central and Carlisle loom over the next two weeks.
William Penn, West York see struggles: Two of the YAIAA's perennial powerhouses have gotten off to slow starts. At 7-5, the two-time defending district champ Bearcats are off to one of their worst starts in the last decade, and the Bulldogs have fallen to 5-4 after losing four of their last six.
But before reaching for the panic button, take into consideration that both squads have played very challenging schedules, and the toughest parts are behind them. West York started the season with seven consecutive road games, and six of the Bulldogs' first eight opponents had records at or above .500. And the Bearcats' five losses have come to YAIAA foe Spring Grove and nonconference powerhouses Chester, Reading, Lower Merion and Coatesville.
Both teams will have to improve on the defensive end to turn things around, though, especially the Bearcats, who are among the bottom three teams in the league in points allowed.
Susquehannock rising in crowded Division II: Similar to York Catholic on the boys' side, Susquehannock wasn't a team on many experts' radar after last season's average campaign. But at 9-2 overall and in first place of Division II, the Warriors have caught our eye. Their only two losses have come to Class AAAA powerhouse Central York, and wins against Donegal, West York and York Suburban have made it clear that Susquehannock is a legitimate contender.
A race to the finish between West York and York Suburban was already expected to be fun to watch, but Susquehannock's hot start should make January and February even more entertaining in Division II.
Delone Catholic persevering: At 9-2, the Squirettes sit tied atop the Division III standings, as they have been at this point of the season many times before. But this season has been more of a challenge for head coach Gerry Eckenrode and company.
In addition to having to replace Maddie Comly, who is playing at Fairleigh Dickinson now, the Squirettes have had to deal with crippling injuries. Their top two scorers — Ally Shipley and Jill Novak — have both missed significant time dealing with leg injuries. Novak played in only a handful of games before being sidelined, and Shipley missed three weeks with a knee injury.
Somehow Delone has managed to keep the ship afloat, ranking in the top three in the league in both team offense and team defense. A lot of credit should go to Eckenrode but also to Katie Laughman, Elise Knobloch, Lilly Singleton and Riley Vingsen, who have all picked up their scoring with Novak and Shipley sidelined.
Division I dominance: Five teams in Division I boast a record at .500 or better. Red Lion is undefeated and looks dominant. Central is 10-1 with wins against Lower Dauphin (7-3), Susquehannock (9-2) twice and York Catholic (8-3). New Oxford is 7-5 with four of its losses coming by five points or fewer, and all to tough competition. South Western is 5-5 and has a freshman — Taylor Geiman — who is sixth in the league in scoring (14.0 points). And William Penn (6-5) is a win away from matching last season's win total.
It has already been a solid season up and down Division I and with that much talent: Expect some fireworks in January and February.