While a two-game taste of the District Three Class AAA boys’ basketball tournament has his experienced group anxious to get the 2015-16 season up and running, veteran coach Pete Conrad is taking a more cautious approach.
Conrad understands how important it was for the youngsters in his program to reach the postseason — especially those who gained valuable experience during a difficult 5-17 season one year earlier — and he also knows things can change rapidly.
Particularly in the Mid Penn Conference’s typically rugged Keystone Division.
“You talk about building blocks, and it was a really good building block,” Conrad said recently, just two days into his seventh preseason training camp.
Returning three starters and 10 of the 13 players that were on last season’s postseason roster — Palmyra knocked off Dover in the Class AAA preliminary round, then tumbled to eventual runner-up and Mid Penn Keystone rival Bishop McDevitt in its next outing — Conrad and Co. have reason to be optimistic.
Yet, it’s not quite that simple.
“It’s not like we have everybody back,” said Conrad, lamenting the graduation departures of 2014-15 starters Bobby Dorta and Ian Frazier. “We’re already assimilating some guys into some new roles, but I do think there’s a lot of depth.
“We’re gonna have some choices.”
While senior guards Austin Yetter (13.6 points per game) and Eric Lynn (7.1 ppg) figure to reclaim their starting spots, the same holds true for junior Isaac Blatt (13.5 ppg) — the mobile big man who closed the 2014-15 campaign in a hurry.
Forwards Braden Vernet (5.2 ppg) and Ethan Harro (1.7 ppg) should be part of Palmyra’s deep rotation, but juniors such as Sam Sheils, Carl Reigle, Alon Rhette and Bryant Willis are angling for minutes as well. Same for senior Noah Reale.
All played some last season.
“First thing that I think has to happen is these guys have to grow into some new roles,” Conrad admitted. “As much as it’s having three starters back, it’s always going to be different roles. This is a different team obviously than last year’s team, so that’s new roles on the floor and that’s new roles off the floor.
“So I think how these guys deal with that will tell a lot about where we’re headed,” Conrad said. “Which of (the juniors) is going to step forward and seize roles and not be passive. (They need to) demand time and demand shots and demand to be contributors. That’s going to be big for us.”
And since a balanced Keystone Division figures to have a frenetic championship chase throughout — Palmyra was one of five Keystone teams to reach postseason play last season; seven of the nine went a year earlier — the Cougars hope to be part of a sizable mix scrapping for league supremacy.
Will they? While an early signature win against a perennial hammer would help on a number of levels, check back in a few months.
Nonetheless, Conrad’s optimistic Cougars will open the rapidly approaching season packing much higher expectations than they have the past few seasons.
“Sure, absolutely,” Conrad said. “I think they see the division is wide open. They understand there’s a bunch of good teams in the division, not that the division is necessarily easier and more wide open. We think they’re in that mix.”
“We’re confident, but we’ve still got some things to prove.”
PALMYRA BOYS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Pete Conrad (seventh season, 57-86; 11th season overall, 115-128)
Last year’s record: 12-12, 4-10 in Mid-Penn Keystone Division
Returning starters: Austin Yetter (6-1, Sr, G), Isaac Blatt (6-5, Jr, F-G) Eric Lynn (6-0, Sr, G)
Other top players: Braden Vernet (6-3, Jr, F), Ethan Harro (6-1, Sr, F)
Season opener: Dec. 4 vs. Marple-Newtown, Donegal Tip-Off Tournament