With slew of talented seniors, Eagles have eyes on the prize

By on December 2, 2015

There are certain years when all of the pieces seem to be in place.

That is the story for the 2015-16 Cocalico Eagles boys basketball squad, which returns most of its team from last year’s very good 16-8 squad, including seven seniors.

Yep, the Eagles have experience, the overall talent led by potential L-L League Player of the Year in senior 1,000-point scorer Tucker Lescoe, and the hunger to dethrone defending champion Manheim Central and the rest of the challengers in Section Three.

Will it be easy? No. But do the Eagles have the players in place to not only do damage in the regular season but post-season as well? Absolutely.

Lescoe is a four-year starter who averaged 21.5 points per game a season ago. He’ll be the main threat, but the Eagles do have others. Senior guard Moses Ulysse (6.4) can do a little at both ends, while fellow 12th grader Ian Arcudi (29 threes a year ago) is a deadly shooter from the outside.

Add to that scrapper DJ Fabiani, guard Dante Haines (8.0 avg. as a sophomore), who returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury, and 6-4 big man Jake Fester, and the Eagles certainly have the look of a serious contender.

Are they small? Aren’t they always?

But Cocalico is quick and athletic enough to overcome its size deficiencies and be a big factor in Section Three, if not the favorite to cut down the nets come season’s end.

Recently, Ephrata Review Sports Editor Todd Ruth caught up with 10-year head coach Travis Wealand to discuss the upcoming season.

The following is a transcript of that conversation:

Todd Ruth: You have seven seniors back. That’s a nice nucleus to build off right from the start.

Travis Wealand: The seven seniors, it’s great to have them. One senior is new to us this year but the other guys have a lot of experience coming back so that’s a great thing to begin with.

TR: Last year you guys had a nice little run that resulted in berths in the L-L and District Three playoffs. Because you lost both playoff games, do you still view it as a successful season?

TW: I think so. We always look at trying to win a section title and advancing in Districts. We didn’t do either, but I felt like our guys played very well together. They were a great team and earned a home District game. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way, so that’s definitely a focus for us this year to continue those same goals and try to make it into Districts and continue to advance.

It was tough. Anytime to get the opportunity to have bonus basketball in the post-season, you have to take advantage of it. Last year’s group played extremely hard and tough together. They executed our game plan. It just was a decision here or there that really changed the game. We can’t have it back but we can learn from it.

TR: You made the transition from Section Two to Section Three last year. How do you feel that transition went for your team?

TW: We knew going in last year that Manheim Central had a great team with a lot of returnees. We had one of our best games of the season with them at home. We played them really tough and we were real proud of our guys there. But the section is difficult. Every team, especially this year, is bringing back a good nucleus of guys with a lot of talent. The coaching staffs in the section are great. Just like last year, this year is going to be a battle every night.

TR: Do you feel as though you are better prepared and know the teams better than a year ago?

TW: Yeah, it’s been a couple years since we were in Section Three so now having another year under our belts gives us that familiarity, so that helps. But every year is different. Players are different and teams will probably change up what they do based on their personnel. I do think it was good for our guys to get in those gyms again, so maybe they’ll be a little more comfortable this year.

TR: This year’s team, obviously we talked about your seven seniors. Looking at the squad, there isn’t a lot of size but you are really athletic. Is that how you see it?

TW: Traditionally at Cocalico we are usually undersized. That’s usually what happens, but we have a lot guys with a lot of heart. We have guys who understand the expectations and they always give us their best. They play hard and we preach that. When everything else fails, you can always work hard. I think they buy into that. They do a great job in practice, challenging each other, and eventhough we don’t have as much size as many other teams, I just feel like we can get up the floor and try to pressure some teams into some difficult situations. Hopefully we’ll get some buckets just out of defensive pressure. Lack of size has never been a deterrent for them. Our guys know it and understand it, and they just work harder.

TR: Two weeks in, what are your early impression of this group?

TW: It’s a great group. They are a lot of fun. Their energy level at practice is great. They challenge each other, and I’ve noticed a really great chemistry with them, just being friends but also they can get under each other’s skin at practice which makes each other better. That’s a good thing for a team to have, when you can walk off the court and hang out together and have a good time but on the court you work really hard and try to make each other better. And again, because we have quite a handful of people who played either JV or varsity last year, that helps as well because we can jump right into everything. I just think they’ve got great attitudes and have worked hard so far.

TR: With all of these seniors, is it going to be a challenge for you to get some of these other guys involved?

TW: There is definitely room. We got a lot of guys who have experience and will take up minutes, but we talk about always challenging the next man. Somebody who is an underclassman who is working hard and shows that improvement, there are minutes to be had. You can’t really say going into a season how it’s going to pan out, but having a real nice group of seniors really challenges those younger guys to step their games up too.

TR: Looking at your squad, obviously you have one of the best players in the league in Tucker Lescoe. He’s a four-year starter, 1,000-point scorer…What kind of expectations do you have for him in his final season?

TW: Just like all of the other years, even when he was a freshman, he was a leader. And I think this year in particular, he’s really stepped up as far as trying to be a leader on the court. He really does make everyone better. When he’s hot shooting, it’s great. And when he’s driving and kicking to open players, it helps our team tremendously. He just has that all-around game that we need, and I know our guys lean on him for that. But I think really it’s been his leadership and character that sets him apart.

TR: The thing about him on the court that impresses me is his unselfishness.

TW: Yeah, and when we are practicing and running through plays and things, our guys need to be ready because he’ll find ways to get them the basketball. They need to be ready to score and contribute. I know they feed off his energy, and the guys feed off him as well when he’s knocking down shots. It’s a really nice thing to have someone who has been around for a while and understands the game and what we are trying to do.

TR: Everybody knows he’s the best player, so teams will first and foremost, try to stop him. That means there should be opportunities for the other guys. Do you feel they can step up and take advantage of that?

TW: The thing with having someone like Tucker on your team, and it’s been the same the last four years. People have been trying to limit his touches with double teams and traps, and I feel like over the years we’ve done a nice job with spacing the floor and getting people in positions where they can contribute when Tucker needs to get rid of the basketball. I think this year is no exception. We have guys that can certainly score, and those guys will have to be guarded on the court as well. That’s a luxury for our team this year because we have some guys that can definitely score.

TR: Let’s talk about those other guys. Ian Arcudi showed the ability to shoot, DJ Fabiani is a battler in there and Moses Ulysse really came on strong last year. Talk about those guys.

TW: Moses, we are going to look for him to put the ball in the hole quite a bit. He can shoot and drive. One thing we really like about him is he’s challenged himself to be a better defensive player. He really wants to have a good season. I know DJ and Moses have talked about bringing a lot of energy, speed and quickness to the team. And Ian is a great shooter. He catches is space and can handle the ball and makes good decisions. And then you have Dante coming back this year. We haven’t had him since his sophomore year and he’s been doing a great job with his role this year. Those guys, as far as our guards go, is a nice group to have around Tucker.

TR: You got Jake Fester in the middle?

TW: Yep. Jake is 6-4 and played a little bit last year varsity-wise. He had a great summer, played defensive end on the football team. He’s been in there and has done a nice job. He’s also been teaching and sharing with our other new senior, Billy Paiano. He’s really been pulling him over, talking to him on the side. He’s a really nice kid and is doing a good job. I definitely expect him to contribute as one of our bigs.

TR: What other younger players do you expect to contribute?

TW: Aidan Trynosky, a sophomore, made tremendous gains over the summer. Last year he played mostly JV, and this year he ended up starting for us during summer basketball. He’s another player that can drive and shoot. He’s athletic off the floor and can rebound….he can kind of do a little bit of everything, so that’s a nice person to have. And at 6-1, it helps to have a little bit of height at the guard position. Another sophomore looking to push for minutes is Tyler Kepley. He’s more of a forward-type player. He’s strong and rebounds very well and finishes around the basket. He really has been learning how to drive the ball to the rim. What I like about Tyler is he’s a competitor and he can take fouls and still finish.

TR: With a team that has a number of strengths, what do you think is your biggest one?

TW: I think our experience and understanding what our philosophies are is definitely a strength. Even our junior class, we have Austin Harven, Matt Miller, Nick Monteleone and Demetri Whitsett. Those four guys have come a long way and are working really hard to continue to improve. That whole group of juniors, it’s just really neat to see the seniors passing what it takes to be competitive to them. The seniors have done a nice job teaching the younger guys what is expected. You never know as far as minutes go but it’s a nice group to have.

TR: As far as your weaknesses are concerned, what area do you need to improve most?

TW: I think everything stems from our defensive pressure. We need to be fast, we need to be playing full court and trying to use our quickness to our advantage. We’re just trying to add some new wrinkles and things…you know with a group of experienced guys, they know a lot of what we’ve done over the years. We just need to continue to build off of that. I feel like that’s going to be an area of focus for us. Defensively, adding new things, changing things up and trying to put pressure on other teams.

TR: With such a veteran group with its experience and talent, is it section title or bust?

TW: Our goal is always (to win) the section title. Every year we talk about that with our kids. We share with them the banner that we have hanging in the gym, and they know what it takes, but it’s never easy. You got to earn everything all of the time and there is never anything guaranteed. We try to teach them that, not just with basketball but with life as well, and how important it is to make the most of the moment. If our guys do that every day I think we’ll be challenging for a section title. That’s definitely our goal and hopefully we can get there.

TR: The section obviously has a bunch of good teams. Who do you feel has the edge going in?

TW: I think the favorite label always has to go to the team that won it the year before, and that’s Manheim Central. Coach Sherwood does a great job. His guys are always well-prepared, and he gets the most out of his players. Having someone like Taylor Funk, who is a nightmare as far as match-ups go…the game just kind of comes to him. He can shoot and score inside so as far as match-ups go, he’s definitely one of the most difficult match-ups in our section. Definitely, the title will run through Central, but I like a lot of the other teams too. Elco is bringing back a lot of experience and quality players. L-S is bringing back pretty much everyone. I think they graduated only one senior and they were very difficult last year, and Donegal is always a tough out too. I really feel like Section Three is loaded.

TR: Last question, obviously you guys get to start the season against Ephrata. What is that going to be like to have that experience and that kind of environment for Night One?

TW: It’s a little bit of a luxury for us at the beginning of the season as far as not having any games the first weekend. We can go and see some other teams in person, and have a little extra time to try to iron out what we want to do. But then as the season goes, that compacts our schedule and gives us more three-game weeks and that kind of thing. As far as kicking off with Ephrata, the back-yard rivalry is always one of the highlights of the season. It seems to be a great game every time. The stands will be full, and the fact that it’s a boys/girls doubleheader…I just think it will be a great night. It’s always awesome to start the season, but it’s even better when you have your back-yard rival right away.

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