Excitement almost always surrounds a sports team in the days before a season commences.
The York College men’s basketball team is no exception.
The level of anticipation is certainly high for coach Matt Hunter’s club.
Entering Hunter’s sixth season, the Spartans have serious expectations, even championship expectations.
Those feelings were confirmed when York was picked by the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) coaches as the No. 2 team in the preseason poll, behind only defending champion Christopher Newport (28-4).
The Spartans were picked by four coaches — Hunter could not vote for his own team —as the top team in that poll, marking the first time under Hunter that York has garnered any first-place votes.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we’re excited about what we have going on,” Hunter said. “And that’s with regards to all facets of our program, from a recruiting standpoint, to a players in our program standpoint, from an academic standpoint, to a socially and actively involved in the community standpoint. There is a lot of excitement.”
Coming off strong season: York is coming off a 2016-17 season that was the most successful during the Hunter era. The Spartans finished 17-10 overall while placing third in the 10-team CAC regular-season standings at 12-6. Hunter’s crew advanced to the CAC semifinals, where it was beaten in double-overtime by second-seeded Salisbury (20-8).
York has all five starters returning, two of which were named All-CAC. They also have a healthy Dalton Myers, a first-team All-CAC pick two years ago as a sophomore.
It seems all signs are pointing up for Hunter and his squad.
Hunter, however, isn’t one to put too much credence in preseason hype.
“It is nice to be recognized, but that means nothing," Hunter said. "It doesn’t help us get better today or tomorrow. It really is just an honor (on paper).”
Experience in abundance: One thing that Hunter did not downplay is experience, something that this year’s squad will have in abundance.
Matt Scamuffo was a first-team All-CAC pick as a junior while leading York in scoring at 16.0 points per game. Blayde Reich was a second-team All-CAC pick who averaged nearly 14 points and six rebounds per game.
Myers, meanwhile, missed the majority of last season with an injury after leading York in scoring as a sophomore.
So it's obvious the Spartans have a solid core that has been together for a while.
Add in the success from last year and it's easy to see why York enters this season with a bull's-eye on its back.
“The way we finished last year was great,” Hunter said of his team’s 5-2 record over the last seven games of the regular season. “It was certainly not the ending (with the heartbreaking CAC semifinal loss) that anyone here wanted, but I think we did a really good job of establishing a tone and work ethic amongst our returning players that they are able to pass down to the incoming players.”
Central York grad Wagner a key: York’s depth will certainly be one of the Hunter’s best assets this season.
The Spartans have just three freshmen on the roster. In comparison, Hunter can lean on seven upperclassmen in addition to four sophomores, highlighted by Central York graduate Jared Wagner, who led the CAC in both steals and assists as a freshman.
Whether or not York can win the CAC title for the first time since the 2011-12 season remains to be seen. Hunter’s club, however, will more than likely know a lot about itself before conference play kicks off at the end of November.
Challenging start: A potential showdown with a nationally-ranked Scranton team could be in the cards if both teams win their opening games Friday, Nov. 17, at the Hilton Scranton Invitational. On the heels of that comes a high-profile contest against NCAA Division I foe Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
How the first week or two shakes out may mean a lot more to the players and fans, but it is not of the utmost concern for Hunter. His goal is much broader than simply wins and losses.
“Internally it is just about setting a standard of how we’re going to conduct ourselves daily,” Hunter said. “That is the most important thing. That (the coaches poll) doesn’t matter and regional rankings do not matter. It’s about the collection of us in the gym to continue to improve on a daily basis.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.