A talented senior class is set to lead the Raiders during a section title chase

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Linger long enough around the Elco boys basketball team this winter, and you're bound to overhear coach Brad Conners mention a specific ladder; a ladder that very well may come to define the Raiders' season.

Now this ladder is not real. Instead, it's the crux of a metaphor that Conners intends to repeat, hoping to imprint an approach on his crew during their 22-game journey; always taking one step, or game, at a time. While the core of his message should ring familiar for anyone who's ever been coached, the idea of making a climb should hit home even more so for the Raider seniors.

That's because three seasons of steps have led to this one winter, and come spring, they intend to enjoy their view from the top.

All five Elco starters have returned for the 2015-16 campaign, including two-time All-County honoree and senior Colton Lawrence. The talented 6-foot-3 guard/forward helped lead the Raiders to their first playoff game since 2009 a year ago, capping a 13-10 regular-season effort that included a competitive showing in Section Three. Having played in multiple summer leagues and camps since that time, Elco's new plan is to challenge for the section crown, an effort that will need every bit of Lawrence as it will his teammates.

"Coming last year off a playoff game, now it's about doing enough to make another one," Conners said. "I think they'll do what it takes to win. All summer long their hard work, their effort, their willingness to show up, they've had it. That is really encouraging. I don't know that we're going to be totally different from last year."

Defensively, the Raiders should most certainly be recognizable, in particular senior stopper Caleb Buchmoyer. The physical forward regularly embraced and often solved opponents' toughest matchup problems last season, while still offensively rounding out Elco's list of leading scorers. Set to complete the Raiders frontcourt this year are fellow upperclassmen, forward Dylan Stoops and center Ryan Eshleman.

Eshleman's reach inside the paint is projected to have grown, not so much from added physical length but rather improved quickness. The junior reportedly competed well against current Division I prospect and Manheim Central star Taylor Funk during summer leagues. How well he and Stoops contend against Funk and others during section play should go a long way to determining Elco's success.

And then there's junior sharpshooter Mason Bossert, who landed on the 2014-15 All-County second team after his first full year as the program's starting point guard. Unlike Eshleman, Bossert's physical growth has been noticeable, which figures to enhance an already effectively pesky defensive game. But drop in on any Raiders contest this year and he'll first force you to take notice of a different skill:

"The kid can flat-out shoot the basketball," Conners said.

Off the bench, the Raiders should be boosted by the addition of Andrew Olson, most recently named to the All-County football team as a wide receiver. Olson led Elco in receiving yards during his first fall on the gridiron, and he'll be making his varsity debut on the hardwood this December. Should the athletic senior find a way to hone his hoops skills in time, there may be a sixth starter sitting on the Elco bench.

"They're great kids," Conners said of soon-to-be-graduates. "This will be a group I definitely shed a tear for saying good-bye."

And now the key will simply be to delay that good-bye for as long as possible; one step at a time.

ELCO BOYS AT A GLANCE

Coach: Brad Conners, sixth season, 32-79 (.288)

Last year: 13-10, 1st round of District 3 Class AAA tournament

Returning starters: Mason Bossert (Jr., G), Colton Lawrence (Sr., G/F), Caleb Buchmoyer (Sr., G), Dylan Stoops (Sr., F), Ryan Eshleman (Jr., C)

Other top players: Andrew Olson (Sr., G/F), Luke Darkes (Sr., C)

Season opener: Dec. 4 vs. Muhlenberg, at Lebanon Tip-off tournament

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