Despite key losses, Eagles in search of another title
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
The success of a program can be measured by its ability to maintain a level of consistency year after year.
That’s the Cocalico boys basketball program in a nutshell right there. Over the past three seasons, the Eagles have built a consistent winner and captured section titles in each season despite, among other things, moving up from Section Three to Two, and enduring heavy graduation losses after every season.
This year is no different.
Cocalico is coming off a 17-7 section title year, but is doing so having to replace six more seniors, including 37 points a game from its top three scorers from a year ago.
While a lot of faces have changed, six-year Coach Travis Wealand said recently his and his program’s focus is always the same.
"We always have the same expectations," he said. "Our standards are always high, and our guys know what we expect from them. That’s what’s neat about this current group. It’s a lot of kids who haven’t had a chance because of the classes that were before them so I’m sure they are eager to get their chance. With only one returning starter, it gives a lot of guys quite a big opportunity to step into a role and latch on to a role. We are excited about that and also because we know that they are on board with the same expectations as we (the coaches) have. I feel like we’ve established ourselves as a good program with a nice tradition and we hope to keep it going that way."
Tradition aside, Wealand’s biggest dilemma may be replacing the scoring punch of three-headed monster of Cody Bransby (14.0), Kevin Antol (13.5) and Dylan Brossman (10.0).
"I think it definitely affects any team that loses quality guys like we had last year," he said. "But I think one of the things we do a good job of is we don’t focus on the past. We don’t talk about last year. We move on and we put it behind us and I think these guys have responded to that and are taking hold of their chance. It’s another group of six seniors that all want to play and want to make their mark on Cocalico basketball. And so far they are moving in the right direction."
Turning to this year’s group, the one thing that jumps out at you is that it is an extremely athletic group which includes six seniors, four juniors and a sophomore.
"We do have a lot of guys who are multiple sport type of players, which is something we like," he said. "It’s a different group from last year as far as just our size. We’ve never been real big but we are not as big as we were in the past. We just need to change our style just a little bit to match our guys and so far they’ve been doing a good job."
The lone returning starter this season is 6-1 senior Christian Graybill, who is a Jack-of-all-trades kind of player that will see time in both the front and back courts
"Christian is multi-dimensional," Wealand said. "He’s a well-rounded player. He can play inside and out. He works hard and is just real savvy on the court. I think his experience and his skill set will allow him to play different positions and make for a tough matchup for teams.
"He’ll also provide a lot of leadership, which with his experience that should really help us out on the court. We’ll look for all the seniors to lead. We have other guys that are stepping into leadership roles in practice. They are all doing their part. We just hope they all keep moving in the right direction and keep pushing us ahead."
In addition to Graybill, the senior members of the team include a trio of 5-8 guards Joe Becker, Austin Landis and Mitch Denlinger, as well as a couple bangers underneath in Adam Marshall (6-2) and Ryan Schweitzer (6-3).
"I expect all six seniors to contribute," Wealand said. "They are all definitely going to get playing time. As of right now, you don’t know how that is going to be from one game to the next. It might be a certain lineup against Hempfield and a different lineup against an E-town. We are just kind of looking at it from a whole team aspect, but these guys all can play and can all contribute and we’d like to attack it that way this year."
There are several candidates looking to fill roles as underclassmen at the varsity level. Those players include 5-9 junior guard Oliver Denlinger, fellow junior swingmen Brock Gosling (5-11) and Wes Rathman (6-1), junior forward Shea Evans (6-3), and 5-8 sophomore guard Spencer Moser.
With a lot of new faces in the mix, Wealand said his squad’s focus is paramount to its success.
"I think we have to believe in ourselves," he said. "I think our team attitude that we’ve been showing in practice thus far has been great. We’ve been sharing the ball, playing tough defense, and really playing to our strengths. I think that’s just something a lot of teams focus on but for us it’s really important. We as a program always focus on the small things. And this year in particular, these guys are learning a lot, and when we take care of the small things the bigger picture is a lot more clear. If we are lackadaisical with the small things, it becomes harder to do the big things. Our guys have been really focusing on that, and that stuff goes a long way for us."
Since the Eagles enter 2011-12 with a smaller, yet quicker lineup than in recent years, Wealand said his squad will look to get the transition game going on most nights.
"We always try to get easy buckets in transition," he said. "We just like to be in ‘attack mode’ as a team. We like to be able to pressure teams and play as up and down as we can. Obviously, it’s something we’ve been working on so far but also recognizing the situation. When it’s not time to push the ball in transition and be able to run our sets. Thus far, we’ve been doing a real nice job with that."
And if things go as planned, Wealand believes this team is capable of doing similar things as some of his previous squads.
"I think the kids know from a program standpoint what our success has been in the past," he said. "We don’t even have to talk about it. The kids know that that’s where we are going and we want to work as hard as possible to make it possible to continue what we’ve established. The kids have that. They know that from the beginning and you could see it even in tryouts. They take pride in what they do. They work hard and since a lot of them have been through it, whether on the JV team or in our varsity program, they know what it takes. They haven’t been the ones to see it all through but they know what it takes. And that’s just great. That’s a good tradition builder."
To keep the tradition of winning section titles going, the Eagles will need to get past a number of tough teams in the section this year. Wealand was asked who he feels are the top dogs in Section Two this season.
"I think E-town will be returning a lot of nice players this year," he said. "I think they are going to be real tough in the section. Really, I think every game in the section is always a battle. Night in and night out it’s going to be teams being physical, playing tough defense and just good matchups across the board. You could go down through each team but off the top of my head E-town is probably going to be up there. Of course, I expect Cocalico to put their name in the mix also." More EAGLES, page B-6