When Kevin Schieler and the Central York Panthers returned from a 75-69 win at Cedar Crest just before Christmas, the head coach sat with his assistants and let the first portion of the season sink in for a moment.
His Panthers were coming off an eighth-straight win to start the season – something that seemed unlikely after replacing four starters including their top scorer and top rebounder, and facing one of the toughest schedules in the district.
Even a coach confident in his group was a little surprised at being 8-0.
“When we got back from Cedar Crest, we were 8-0 and we said this is beyond what we thought would happen,” Schieler said. “We knew we had a tight-knit group, we just didn’t know what to expect because of their lack of experience. We didn’t know how much nerves would set in. And if we didn’t get off to a good start, how much would they second guess themselves?”
No second-guessing necessary. The Panthers sit in first place with an 11-1 record after continuing their hot start and holding off William Penn in overtime Tuesday. What’s even more impressive is that nine of Central’s 11 wins have come against teams with .500 records or better, including Penn Manor, Spring Grove, Cedar Crest and Hempfield.
“At this point I would’ve taken 7-5 or 6-6 with this schedule,” said senior guard Jared Wagner, who has increased his scoring output from 11.6 points to 17.1. “We just grinded out a few wins and it took off from there.”
Sharpshooting Nathan Markey is up from 5.9 points last season to 13.1 this season. Onterio Edmonds has been solid rebounding and defending. Niko Sobestanovich and Garrett Markey have flashed potential. And role players like Courtney Batts and Landyn Ray, who combined for 29 points against William Penn, have continued to step up as well.
“They’re all extremely talented players and they know on any given night, any of their numbers could be called,” Markey said. “And they’ve all stepped up for us at some point.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Central down the stretch with games against William Penn, West York, Bishop McDevitt and Spring Grove still remaining. But Schieler isn’t worried. He has his guys building ‘the biggest, baddest’ wall one brick at a time – a motivational metaphor he delivers to his team during practice. Why’s he so confident in the Panthers? Because they have the best chemistry Schieler has ever seen, he said.
That was evident Tuesday night against William Penn. While the Bearcats were struggling to communicate on defense and showed poor body language at times, Central was chest bumping and cheering each other on.
“Our chemistry is special,” Markey said. “The way we get along is unlike any team I’ve been on in my life. I think that helps propel us to where we are.”
Newcomers making huge difference at York Catholic >> Meanwhile, four miles to the south, chemistry has helped lift York Catholic to a surprising start as well. Expectations weren't exactly sky high after the Irish went 11-13 last season, lost top scorer Paul Martello to graduation and hired a first-year head coach. But at the season’s midway point, they sit at 8-2 and atop the Division III standings after picking up a statement win over defending division champ Hanover Tuesday.
What's the difference this year? Melik Martin and D'Andre Davis, who both transferred from William Penn this offseason, have burst onto the scene, averaging 15 and 13 points, respectively, and Andrew Forjan has increased his scoring average from 9.1 to 12.6.
Head coach Blaine Claiborne admitted he was worried for a short time earlier in the season if chemistry would be an issue with newcomers in the fold or if there would be an issue meshing the team together. But he credits one of those newcomers – Martin – with bringing everyone together. After having to sit with foul trouble during a home game against rival Delone Catholic, Martin made his mark from the sideline.
“He was the loudest guy on the bench and in the gym,” Claiborne said of Martin. “That rubbed off on everyone else. That was really a good coming-together moment for us. And we stress just being a team. We all overlook how important that is sometimes but it’s simple things like helping a teammate up off the floor or cheering them on from the bench.”
Similar to the success at Central, the chemistry is paying off in the win column. That shouldn’t be all that shocking, Claiborne said.
“When I first got here I was surprised at how good these guys already were,” Claiborne said. “So I knew it was just going to be about confidence to compete with teams and push us further than where they had been at for the last few years. We had good shooting and size before and a good point guard (Forjan). And once these guys (Martin and Davis) joined the group, I knew we would be a really tough team.”
And credit the rookie head coach with transforming the traditionally methodical Irish offense into the second-highest scoring offense in the league.
“It’s completely different from last year,” Forjan said. “Coach has done a great job of encouraging us and we’re all having a good time being here. That’s helping us on the court a lot.”