Cedar Crest must decide: Rebuild or reload?
Senior Evan Horn returns to lead a young Falcons group in search of its third straight L-L title
It is said that the most difficult accomplishment in sports comes not from reaching the top, but staying there.
So what happens when you achieve both?
The Cedar Crest boys basketball team is about to find out.
Fresh off back-to-back Lancaster-Lebanon League titles and second-round state tournament berths, the Falcons head into 2015-16 having said good-bye to 10 seniors that marked one of the most successful eras in program history. But there is one prominent member of those championship crews who's not quite ready to bid adieu to victory quite yet.
You've likely heard of him. His name is Evan Horn.
The three-sport senior star has returned to fill the stat sheet on a nightly basis faster than he plans to blow by a given defender, which is to say extremely fast. Having recently led Cedar Crest football to its first district berth in 16 years, the league's most complete basketball player continues to weigh college choices in both sports. But over the summer, the Falcons' primary defensive stopper, ball handler and floor leader put in long hours to ensure his hardwood team stays on top by adding yet another title: sharpshooter.
"He could always shoot, he's just really starting to do it now," Cedar Crest coach Tom Smith said. "He worked like crazy on it this summer and shoots now very, very well."
Horn and senior forward Raymie Ferreira, a smooth 6-foot-5 operator on the low block, stand as the only returning contributors for the Falcons, who will again be backboned by a strong backcourt. An influx of young guards, including Horn's freshman brother, Logan, have come to compete with senior returners Iziah Trimble and Kobe Bolanos. Smith said the fourth-year duo was an instrumental part of initial preseason practices, leading both by example and through spoken word.
And that kind of veteran presence was needed, considering the fundamental focus of Cedar Crest practices this year, which compared to past winters has been like dropping from calculus down to high-level algebra; a transition that the teacher in Smith is welcoming thus far.
"This is taking us back to what we were a couple years ago when we got the ball rolling. And it's not quite that bad," Smith said. "We've still got a lot of kids who know what's going on."
But come exam time, otherwise known as Section One play, the Falcons must be well-versed in the highest levels of execution possible. Both Hempfield and McCaskey project as strong, perhaps even favored, threats to stealing the section crown. And Cedar Crest cannot afford to rely on its opponents to miss their second shots at the two-time league king.
The blue and white simply must withstand them.
Yet what gives the Falcons confidence despite so much roster turnover is a summer behind them packed with on-court success. Deploying largely the same group it will unveil on Dec. 4, Cedar Crest entered various camps and leagues across the state, beginning in May with the local Cedar Boys League that Smith co-founded. Often, the Falcons would leave these competitions with hardware.
"I thought we had a very good summer and the young, inexperienced guards rose to the occasion. They solidified to me that we can do this with these guys," Smith said. "The expectations are the same. We still want to compete for the Section One championship, and Lancaster-Lebanon League and I think we have the horses to do it."
Regardless of how quickly the new youngsters develop, there is certainly no doubt that Cedar Crest is well-armed with experience on the sidelines. Former Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette joined the team's staff as an assistant this fall, and Bouchette's transition of swapping his blue and gold for blue and white has been seamless.
"He's very meticulous, detail-oriented. And that's some of the things we try to do as a staff," Smith said. "He's been a great complement to all the guys we have here."
Whether you've been in the Falcon Cage as briefly as Bouchette or as long as Horn, it's clear Cedar Crest's mission this season remains the same.
"We're not lowering the bar. We have to get up there and reach it, or someone else will," Smith said. "And I think if we show up every night and compete, we're going to have a chance."
CEDAR CREST BOYS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Tom Smith, sixth year, 79-54 (.594)
Last year: 27-4, Lancaster-Lebanon League champions, District 3 Class AAAA runner-ups, PIAA Class AAAA state tournament second round
Returning starters: Evan Horn (Sr., G)
Other top players: Raymie Ferreira (Sr., F), Iziah Trimble (Sr., G), Kobe Bolanos (Sr., G), Tate Seyfert (Jr., G), Jabin Joseph (Jr., G), Dylan Miller (Soph., G), Blake Thomson (Soph., G), Logan Horn (Fr., G)
Season opener: Dec. 4 at Lower Dauphin Tip-off tournament