It's been a gradual growth since West York High School graduate and former Red Lion boys' basketball coach Parrish Petry took over the coaching reins at Penn State York in 2009.
There were two losing seasons by the men's basketball team in Petry's first two years, as he looked to build the program. Then came a winning 16-7 record, ending with a four-point loss in the Penn State University Athletic Conference Tournament in the 2011-12 season.
Then came the breakout 2012-13 season, when Petry steered the local Lions to their first PSUAC Tournament title, finishing with a 19-7 overall record. But that season came to a close with a 20-point loss in the opening round of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II Tournament. It was York's first such trip to the national tourney.
"Some of those other teams, it was like their fourth or fifth year there. For us, we were kind of the newby last year and got blitzed in that opening game because of that," Petry said.
York brought back most of its core players this season. Now a year older and a bit more experienced on the playoff stage, the Yorkers are again in the USCAA Tournament and aiming to go further this time around.
"It's a reality you have to knock on the door a few times before you get through. It happens at the high school level with the county (league) tournament, district tournament and state tournament," Petry said. "It's the same in college. We knocked on the door for three or four years until we made it in last year."
Fresh off winning another PSUAC title, the Lions (24-2) are the No. 2 seed among the 10-team field and will face the winner of No. 7 Berkeley (N.J.) College and No. 10 Penn State Fayette on Thursday. For those unfamiliar with the USCAA Division II men's field, there are total of 42 teams that play at that level, with 10 making it into the national tournament (top 23.8 percent).
Four of the 10 teams in this year's USCAA Division II Tournament are from the PSUAC, which makes York's run to the conference title all that more impressive.
"It speaks for the strength of our conference right now. We've never had this many teams from our conference in the tournament," Petry said. "Our conference has just gotten stronger and stronger compared to the other schools who are out there."
Central Penn College, which split two games with York in the regular season, is also in the tourney. So the local Lions might be aided by having already seen and beaten nearly half the field in the tournament.
"I personally would rather see a different team," Petry said when asked about his preference between facing familiar foes or new opponents. "Regardless of how good they are, it's a little more intriguing if we play somebody different. No matter who we compete against, we're thinking we can go in there and win all three games and be a champion after all this."
The three-day tournament runs from Thursday through Saturday and is being held in Fayette's home gym. Potentially playing three playoff games in three days might sound exhausting, but York often goes 10 players deep, keeping players fresh in Petry's high-paced system.
"This has been a strange year. We've had more injuries this year than my previous years combined. We've had an injury to just about every starter throughout the season," Petry said. "Fortunately we're as healthy as we've been in the second semester."
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.