After putting a very young team on the court last season and taking their lumps during a 3-19 campaign, the Annville-Cleona boys' basketball team is hoping that going through the experience will make it a much better team.
"These guys faced adversity," said Chris Bradford, entering his third season as the head coach of the Little Dutchmen. "Once you taste it, you don't want to taste it again."
The Dutchmen were 2-14 and second from the bottom in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, and their record in the previous season wasn't much better. But there's reason to believe that Bradford's program is on the upswing.
"In Year 3 here, we feel we have things going in the right direction," he said. "Our youth program (in the school district) is good. We've got a good top-to-bottom program going. Our expectations are higher than they've ever been in three years."
The Dutchmen lost second-team Section Four All-Star Trent Wizar to graduation, and a few players on last year's team decided not to return.
"But we are returning a bunch of guys," Bradford said with optimism.
The returning cast is led by veteran 5-foot-10 guard Matt Light, the three-sport star who is the greatest soccer player in school history.
"Matt Light is a senior, he's been my security blanket since I've been here," Bradford said. "He's the guy who all the other guys look to."
One luxury the Dutchmen will have is size. Isaac Burris, a 6-7 center, and Noah Myers, a 6-4 power forward, played a lot last season as a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
With Burris in the low post, Bradford said, "We're gonna be able to do a couple things we couldn't do before."
Of Myers, the coach said, "I think he got his lumps out of the way as a freshman. I think that was very beneficial for him to play as a freshman."
Bradford wants his team to take advantage of that size on the offensive end of the floor.
"I think there's a lot of room for an open-motion offense," he said. "We want to get it inside to the size we have."
Defensively, the Dutchmen will play man-to-man. Bradford has a defensive specialist, senior guard Julian DyReyes-Kapp, who will take on the opposition's best guard.
"He's a definition of a pain in the butt (to opponents)," Bradford said. "I think between him and Matt (Light) we can annoy some of the guards we're going up against."
Bradford also expects key contributions from sophomore guard Donald Friday, who also played last year as a freshman.
"He had a couple of breakout games," Bradford said of Friday, "but he had some adversity as a freshman. He got hurt. But he's a gamer. He was probably in more open gyms than I was."
Also expected to contribute are junior guards Cole Waldhausen and Eli Setlock, junior Cameron Hoch, and seniors Gordon Parks and Tyler Talhelm.
ANNVILLE-CLEONA BOYS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Chris Bradford, third season
Last year: 3-19 overall, 2-14 in L-L Section Four
Key players: Matt Light, Sr. guard; Noah Myers, Soph. forward; Isaac Burris, Jr. center; Julian DyReyes-Kapp, Sr. guard; Donald Friday, Soph. guard; Cole Waldhausen, Jr. guard; Eli Setlock, Jr. guard.
Season opener: Dec. 4 vs. Fleetwood in A-C Tip-Off Tournament