While the York College women's basketball team is in the midst of a historically successful season, the men's team is experiencing just the opposite under second-year coach Matt Hunter.
And it hasn't gone unnoticed by some.
I know of at least one person who sent me an anonymous email last month questioning if Hunter is the right guy for the job. York College assistant dean for athletics and recreation, Paul Saikia, has heard some complaints as well.
"There's no doubt I've heard some negativity from some of our fans who are unaware of the situation that Matt and the program are in," Saikia said by phone recently when chatting about the topic.
What situation is Saikia referring to exactly?
Well, let's go back a year or so to when Hunter first took over a program featuring five seniors, five juniors, no sophomores and three freshmen. One might think having 10 upperclassmen would be more than enough for Hunter to produce a winning record. Except there wasn't a superstar senior in the bunch. And the juniors had little to no experience on the college hardwood to that point. All of it led to a 7-19 record last year.
Through 19 games this season, the Spartans are 3-16. But I'm willing to cut Hunter a break. Why? Because he has just one returning starter (Mike Mathews) and two other seniors who combined for four starts last season. The rest of the roster is made up of two sophomores and nine freshmen. And the young club is playing the seventh-toughest schedule in all of NCAA Division III, according to bennettrankbasketball.com.
"There's like 425 Division III teams. We have the (seventh)-hardest schedule in the country," Hunter said recently. "So we're playing six, seven freshmen a night and three seniors that are basically sophomores experience-wise. So I'm proud of my guys. We fight like crazy."
Hunter had made the comments on Jan. 15 following an 18-point defeat to Capital Athletic Conference opponent St. Mary's, which is currently ranked No. 25 by d3hoops.com. The Spartans actually trailed by single digits in that game until the final seven minutes, a perfect example of how this young York squad has still been a pesky team for nearly every opponent.
Of the 16 losses thus far, six were by single digits, including three against Top-25 teams. In six of the 10 double-digit losses, York has hung tough, trailing by 10 points or less until the final 15 minutes of action. Of the four remaining losses — all blowouts — one came against No. 12 Mary Washington, two others against teams with a combined 27-10 record and one to lowly Southern Virginia (4-11). That last one might seem unacceptable, but York was missing 6-foot, 7-inch starting forward Dalton Myers because of an ankle injury. Myers, the team's third-leading scorer and rebounder, is easily the team's best freshman.
Give him time: For as much success as longtime men's basketball coach Jeff Gamber had before retiring in 2012, he had some rocky seasons, too. In Gamber's last 15 years at the helm, York had 10 winning seasons, won the conference title twice and appeared in the NCAA tournament three times, including a run to the Final Four in 2005. But the Spartans also had five losing seasons during that 15-year stretch, three of which featured single-digit wins in a season.
The point is even good coaches can have not-so-good seasons once in awhile. And Hunter is a good coach, a tireless recruiter and a glass-half-full type of person. He just needs time to build York back into a winner, even if it means suffering through a few losing seasons.
Every York College coach in every sport operates on a one-year contract, according to Saikia. So it's easy for York to cut bait on a coach if it doesn't feel he or she is the right fit. The good thing is it sounds like York is casting a long line with Hunter.
"Men's basketball is the most visible sport (at York) and can't fly under the radar," Saikia said. "Matt and I have had numerous discussions about this. Matt wants to win. It's hard to be having a difficult season even though we knew we were gonna have a difficult season. You just got to keep looking forward. Our fans, it's not their job to understand. They want to see us win. I'm glad they feel that way. It's one of those things where everybody is gonna have to be a little patient."
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.