The pieces are in place for where they want to be, but one thing is missing – varsity basketball experience.
That will be the challenge this season for the Palmyra Cougars boys basketball team, which will have a semi-new look after losing key players from last season, including leading scorer Austin Yetter.
Successful players from other sports such as football, soccer and baseball are poised to join forces on the court this season, but the question will be, can they put it all together and how quickly can it be done?
With the likes of Alon Rhette coming together with the guys who have been there like fellow football teammate Carl Reigle, key sixth-man and key soccer player Sam Sheils, senior Alec Cleckner, two-year starter Braden Vernet, and last year’s second-leading scorer Isaac Blatt, it will be up to the experienced players to move the process along.
The Cougars do have one thing on their side, however – the fact that the chemistry is already there.
“It honestly spills over from sport to sport. All these guys came to every game to cheer us on during football, so it was like they were on the field with us,” said Rhette, who looks to bring a defensive presence to the court. “We just have that team chemistry from being friends and going after it together.”
Vernet said, “I think we’re already acclimated together. We’ve been playing together since fifth grade. I think our chemistry is the best that’s ever come through Palmyra. I think we’re going to have a great season, playing through Isaac, who’s obviously an amazing player, so it’ll be easy to feed through him.”
But no matter how long it might take to put everything together, Palmyra coach Pete Conrad just wants to see continued progression.
“We certainly hope putting in the work now in the preseason will help coalesce in that way,” Conrad said. “We’ve got some very difficult games early in the season. If we’re getting better every day and really trying to adhere to championship caliber habits, than that’s all I can ask from the guys.”
It definitely will be a challenging start for the Cougars, who, after an opening three-game home stand, will face a three-game road trip against Milton Hershey, Cedar Cliff and defending MPC Keystone champion Bishop McDevitt.
The man who will look to lead the way through that first six-game stretch and beyond is Blatt, who’s fully aware of his importance to his team, but knows he’s obviously not alone.
“I think I have to be the go-to guy, but our team is more balanced this year, especially in scoring, so it won’t be too difficult,” Blatt said. “I’ve worked on my ball handling and not turning the ball over, and just improving my shooting. I especially want to be better on the defensive end. That’ll help the team even more.”
Vernet will look to help Blatt by also becoming more of a scoring threat.
“I’m going to look to spread the floor more and become a shooting threat so I can drive and shoot,” he said. “I also have to fight for rebounds. I just have to fill the pieces in.”
Sheils will also be seeing more playing time this season, hoping to improve on the defensive end, while being a facilitator offensively.
“I want to be able to shut down their best guard," Sheils said. "I also want to work on distributing the ball to who’s going to be scoring, and I also want to score myself.”
While the new and returning pieces continue to work through the kinks as the season unfolds, Palmyra still holds one advantage no matter where they are fundamentally at any point – most players have been through big moments in their other respective sports.
Conrad said, “Certainly our advantage is we have a group that’s used to success. They believe they can win in whatever they do and have found ways to win in other situations.”
Coach: Pete Conrad
Last year: 17-6
Returning players: Isaac Blatt (sr.), Alon Rhette (sr.), Carl Reigle (sr.), Sam Sheils (sr.), Alec Cleckner (sr.), Braden Vernet (sr.)
Season opener: Friday, Oct. 9 vs. Susquehanncock, 6 p.m.