Two factors for the Elco boys basketball team coming into the 2016-2017 season that are seemingly contradictory, but nevertheless true, are:
-- the Raiders have experience coming back
-- they also have big shoes to fill
Those big shoes belonged to Colton Lawrence, who was the top scorer in Lebanon County and among the top in District 3 last year with 21.2 points per game.
Though Lawrence has graduated, there is still plenty of experience coming back from a team that won 22 games and appeared in the PIAA Class 3A playoffs last season.
Mason Bossert, a 6-foot senior point guard, scored 18.1 per game last year, and made 99 3-point baskets to lead the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
Ryan Eshleman also returns to Elco's starting lineup as a 6-5 senior center. Nate Beamer, a 6-4 senior guard/forward, was not a starter last season, but he was often on the floor a year ago for a Raider team that averaged 66.8 points per game. That scoring pace was the second-best in the league to McCaskey.
“I feel our strength is in that we have two guys returning from last year and Beamer coming back, and that gives us a big advantage in experience,” Elco coach Brad Conners said.
The Raiders may have some experienced players back to provide stability, but there are changes that Elco could do little about. Re-alignment in the LL section lineups and PIAA classifications have both impacted them.
In the LL, Elco remains in Section 3. However, Section 3 is now the eight smallest schools, not six of the middle-sized schools like it was a year ago. Last season, Elco was second behind Lampeter-Strasburg, which is now in Section 2.
“Obviously, Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite will be favorites,” said Conners, now in his sixth season coaching the Raiders. “I expect us to be right there with them. We got to see Annville and Northern Lebanon in the offseason, and they'll be tough games for us, too.”
When the postseason arrives, the situation will be different for Elco as well. The Raiders were in Class 3A last year in the PIAA's four-classification format. Now, in the six-class format, Elco is in 4A. There are 19 Class 4A teams in District 3.
In addition to Bossert, Eshleman and Beamer, players who will likely get minutes for Elco include: 5-9 junior guard Jeff Lorah, 6-2 senior guard Devon Stoops, 6-1 junior guard Joey Ginder, 6-0 senior guard Kyle Knight, 6-0 senior guard Colin Landis and 6-0 junior guard Blake Weary.
“Our goal is to get better every day,” Conners said. “Down the road we will talk about team goals and individual goals, but we certainly want to contend for the section title.”
A year ago, Elco won District 3 playoff games against Steel-High, Berks Catholic and Gettysburg, sandwiched around a 64-63 quarterfinal loss to Eastern York. The Raiders lost in the first round of states to eventual champion Neumann-Goretti.
Coach: Brad Conners
Last year: 22-6
Returning starters: Mason Bossert (sr., PG, 6-0), Ryan Eshelman (sr., C, 6-5).
Other key players: Nate Beamer (sr., F/G, 6-4), Jeff Lorah (jr., G, 5-9), Devon Stoops (sr., G, 6-2), Joey Ginder (jr., G, 6-1), Kyle Knight (sr., G, 6-0), Colin Landis (sr., G, 6-0), Blake Weary (jr., G, 6-0).
Season opener: Friday, vs Cedar Crest (at Lebanon), 7:30.