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Entering last year, it had been six seasons since the last time the Kennard-Dale boys' basketball team had a winning season.

That might not seem like a long spell, but over the course of those six seasons, the Rams had racked up just 30 wins, or an average of five per season. During that stretch, the team had back-to-back years when it won one game and then none, finishing at the bottom of York-Adams League Division II.

Kennard-Dale boys' basketball was nothing more than an afterthought around the league — and a sure win for opponents.

Last year's Rams squad didn't snap that losing run, finishing 10-12 overall. However, what last season did do was put K-D back on the radar as a team with potential and one that wouldn't lie down for any opponent.

Now, with basically their entire core returning, the Rams are looking to prove that 2016-17 was only the start of their ascension and this season is when they take the next step.

"I think one of our goals is to win the division," senior Adam Freese said during last month's winter sports media day. "Last year was a big year and now we just need to build off of what we made last year."

Big step forward: It was only a matter of time before K-D finally turned a corner and got itself out from the basement of Division II.

All that was required was a group of players who came up through the ranks together and showed the promise to be winners.

This year's senior class is exactly that. It has the perfect mix of having a star player, combined with reliable role players to be a threat. Freese, who finished sixth in the Y-A League in scoring last year (18.9 points per game) and is a Stonehill College signee, might be one of the two or three best players in the league this season. He'll carry the bulk of the offensive responsibility this season, but will be joined by senior forward Donnell Williams (8.9 ppg), senior guard Joey Thomas (9.6 ppg), Craig Potts and junior Jordan Day.

A year ago, that core was so dependable that first-year coach Jake Roupe eventually had to turn to the underclassmen as his go-to starting lineup.

The Rams went 6-6 in Division II, tying for third, but it still didn't result in a postseason berth. However, just being in the position to make the playoffs was a step in the right direction.

"One of the most valuable things about a basketball team is chemistry," Roupe said at media day. "...When you have a team with a lot of seniors you look at the next year and think, 'There's a lot to work on. A lot needs to change.' But, ending last year with four juniors and two sophomores, playing quality minutes, six guys together and we're returning all of them the next year, it's something to look forward to because we know what we got, we know what we can do with it and let's make it better."

Growing up quickly: The team played in a number of close games late last year and, despite the youth, came out on top in a number of them.

If K-D can continue its crunch-time performance this season and then even slightly improve overall as a more veteran team, then the league and district playoffs should be attainable.

"We were a young team learning how to finish games," Roupe said. "...We were in crunch time a lot last year. It was my first year as head coach, so I got to learn and I had these guys next to me and they never let me down, they trusted me and never really questioned anything, just went out there, did what they needed to do and put the games away."

Nearest rival: Even with the promise that the Rams showed as a young team last year, they weren't alone.

Dover won the Division II championship without a single senior on its roster. So, naturally, the Eagles enter the 2017-18 campaign as the favorites.

Other teams, such as West York and Eastern York, are going the same route that Dover and K-D did last year by relying on a group of underclassmen to lead the way this season.

However, there's no question that, if the Eagles are favored to repeat, then the Rams are a close second. They'll be right there ready to step up if Dover slips.

This is a K-D core that has played together since fifth grade and has mostly been coached through the ranks by Roupe. 

Now, with a largely senior group, this is the time for the seniors to leave their mark, not just on the Rams program, but on Division II and the Y-A League.

It's been six seasons since the program last had a winning season and it's been even longer since it won a division crown.

But, there's a belief that this year's group could be the one that changes all of that.

That much was evident when all four players at media day — Freese, Potts, Thomas and Williams — had the same answer when asked what the team's goal was this season.

"Win the division."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com

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