Northeastern and West York will battle for Division II supremacy, while Division III looks to be up in the air.
York High boys' basketball coach Troy Sowers wouldn't admit that his team is the preseason favorite heading into the 2015-16 York-Adams League basketball season.
A poll of his coaching peers, however, would say otherwise.
Sowers was most likely just being modest about his own team's expectations, because when you look at the sheer number of players he has returning from last year's District 3-AAAA championship side, it would be hard to find another team that will rival the Bearcats this season.
York High went 26-5 overall last year against a very difficult schedule, making it all the way to the PIAA Class AAAA second round. It also went 11-1 in York-Adams League Division I play en route to winning the league championship. Now, Sowers has a large portion of last year's team returning for this year, including seniors Trey Shifflett, Montrel Morgan and Kris Johnson, who will represent the team as captains. They'll likely be joined by Jayden Iturmendi and Elliott Wilson in the team's starting five. After that, Jacquez Casiano will be the sixth man off the bench. Sowers will also look for bench production from juniors Messiah Anderson and Nasir Smallwood.
While Division I is shaping up as York High's to lose, there are certainly enough teams within the division who have the talent to potentially upset the Bearcats.
"We have really good team chemistry so far," Sowers said. "High-character kids. A lot of guys on the honor roll and that's what we like to do as Bearcats. That's been the recipe for us to win championships. We have the most wins in the state for any AAAA school the last seven years and basically it comes from just our guys being great character kids, well-rounded that go crazy hard on the basketball floor."
Other Division I contenders: In 2014-15, Central York finished just a game back of the Bearcats for first place in Division I.
The Panthers went 10-2 in division play and 20-10 overall, losing in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA tournament. But, they were also led by a "Big Three" of Sam Saxton, Jared Wagner and Charlie Gingrich. Well, Saxton graduated and Gingrich chose not to come out for the team in his senior year, so that leaves Wagner as the only returning member from Central's three-headed monster from last year. There might be some growing pains this year, with Wagner and Nathan Markey the only two guys returning from last year's team that saw significant varsity action.
"Jared and Nathan are the experienced two coming back," Panthers head coach Kevin Schieler said. "For both of them, this is their third varsity season. They've been around for a while in terms of our program, so those are our first two. ...Losing Charlie is going to hurt on rebounding and interior defense, so (Onterio Edmonds) and (Evan Czulada) are going to have to pick up his slack."
Schieler said Gingrich indicated that his heart was no longer in the game.
Elsewhere, a few other teams could make a jump up and keep the division competitive. Spring Grove has trended upward the last couple seasons, thanks in large part to Eli Brooks, arguably the best player in the league. The junior already has a half-dozen NCAA Division I offers from big-name colleges. That list will likely only continue to grow as he shines on the court. The Rockets, who went 15-10 overall last year, might have the most players coming back from last year out of any team in the division and possess a very junior- and senior-laden squad. This program may take the next step and compete for a berth in the state tournament.
Dallastown (12-10) and Red Lion (13-10) each finished 6-6 in the division last year and a few games over .500 overall and bring back a couple starters and role players form last year to help them improve this season.
"It's really going to be balanced once we hit the regular season because you can't really take a night off in Division I," Sowers said. "There are great coaches, first off, and then we have teams that are coming back with returning experience. ...So, I think this is going to be a very competitive division and if I had to pick a winner, I can't at this point."
Division II: Last year, the Division II race was dominated by two teams — Northeastern and West York.
The Bobcats opened the year 17-0 before losing their only league game to the Bulldogs late in the season. Northeastern still held on to finish 13-1 in division play, two games better than West York. After that, however, no other teams really contended for the division title, despite boasting strong overall records. Again, West York (18-8 last year) and Northeastern might be the cream of the crop in Division II, while everyone else plays for third.
The Bulldogs are returning a number of starters and bench guys from last year, including Matt Dellorfano, Josh Bailey, Darian McCauley, Terry Cains, Ian Lalic and Kenton Meckley.
"We commented the other day that on Friday, we had probably one of our best practices in a couple years," West York head coach Bill Ackerman said. "The guys are really focused. We have a lot of returning players, a lot of high-character guys that know what's expected and they're giving it to us on the practice floor."
The Bobcats are also bringing back lots of talent. Mike Coleman, Donovian Maxwell, Kobi Nwandu, Kody Reeser and Jeff Reynolds were all huge reasons why Northeastern went 23-6 overall in 2014-15 and are all expected to return. A lot of things have to go right to repeat winning 17 games in a row, so that might be out of the question, but topping 23 wins might not be.
As for the rest of the division, a total of five teams finished above .500 last year in both division play and overall and it doesn't look like any are going to take a step back. Eastern York (14-9 in 2014-15) brings back Broguen Nicholas, who recently committed to play his college basketball at Shippensburg University, and was one of the league's leading scorers last season.
Dover, Gettysburg and even York Suburban look to be improved off of last year's campaigns, as well. The Eagles finished last year tied with the Golden Knights at 9-5 in Division II, but went 12-12 overall.The Warriors were the last of the Division II teams to finish above .500, going 8-6 in division play and 16-10 overall. If last year's division had depth, this year's division might be even deeper.
"I think it will be better, believe it or not," Ackerman said. "Northeastern had the most talent in the whole league and Dover, I think, will be much-improved. They have some key parts back. Gettysburg will be tough again this year. York Suburban will see a bounce back from them this year. They're going to be a tough team and Eastern, nobody is really talking about them. They're going to be very good this year. They were pretty young last year and they've got most of their key players back."
Division III: For York County, the highlight of the offseason in Division III came from York Catholic hiring Blaine Claiborne as its new head coach back in April.
Claiborne, a former player for the Fighting Irish, is taking over a team that went 11-13 overall last year, despite going 11-3 in league play. Now, Claiborne is responsible for trying to resurrect a program that has hovered around the .500 mark for the last decade and get it back to its glory days. He was a member of a state title team with the Irish in 1990. That is one of four state boys' championship squads at York Catholic.
When Claiborne was hired back in April, he took the job knowing the great expectations that would surround him as an alum and member of the York Catholic Athletic Hall of Fame. But, he also felt that, as a former player, it was his responsibility to try to be the difference maker.
"I needed to do it and not be worried about what might go wrong and just think about the possibilities of what might go right," he said back in April.
In guiding the Fighting Irish in his first season, Claiborne will get a team competing in a division that is virtually up for grabs. Hanover was the class of Division III last year, running the division table at 14-0 and going 21-4 overall. However, the Nighthawks lost several key players from that team, including Dylan Krieger who was essentially the straw that stirred the drink for them, and may see some drop in their win total this year, allowing more teams to enter the fold.
One of those teams could be Delone Catholic, which enters with a team full of juniors and seniors, nine to be exact. The Squires will be one of the more experienced groups entering the 2015-16 campaign, bringing back four starters from last year's 12-12 team that went 10-4 in Division III, which could be the ultimate factor in them winning the division.
Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.