York Country Day boys' basketball coach Corey Stiles is one of the lucky coaches.
Most high school basketball bosses would love to be in the situation he's in entering the 2016-17 season. After leading the Greyhounds to the best season in program history — an undefeated regular season, a District 3 1-A gold medal and a state playoff berth — Stiles lost one player to graduation from last year's team that finished the season 23-1. To him, however, it's a blessing and a curse.
At this point last year, YCD was in a completely different position. Stiles knew how special his team could be, but the rest of the area didn't. Now, after everything the team went through a year ago and to return the exact same lineup for an encore, Stiles knows there's nowhere for his Greyhound team to hide. This year, YCD takes on a new role it's never had to endure before.
"Going into this year, we have the target on our back from Day 1," Stiles said. "Everyone that plays us, they're going to want to come out and give us their best game. So, what I tell our guys is that we have to practice like it's a game and then we can't take anyone lightly, whether it's the hardest team on our schedule or the easiest team on our schedule. We know every time we step on the court, we're going to get our opponent's best."
Fortunately for Stiles and the Greyhounds, regardless of how strong an opponent plays them this year, they have a lineup that can stack up with most small-school teams.
That starts with the trio of Jordan Ray, DeAireus Brown and D.J. Hamilton. The three together carried the bulk of the offensive load for YCD and would start on most York-Adams League teams. But, along with them, there are other complimentary pieces as well. Thompson Wymard scored nine points in the team's state final loss to Phil-Mont Christian Academy, the third-highest total for the team in the game, while Cameron Sanders added valuable secondary scoring.
All of this has led to expectations rarely seen from a program like the Greyhounds going into a season. Stiles wouldn't call it a failure if the team fails to defend its district championship because he understands how difficult it is to accomplish, but the goals for this year's team start at the district level and then grow from there.
"First of all, we'll take care of business in the regular season by winning as many games as we possibly can," he said. "Hopefully, we can get hot at the right time. I think the biggest thing for us last year was we got hot at the end, which is the time that you want to start getting hot. But, for expectations, I don't think there's anyone on our coaching staff or team that does not believe we shouldn't be going back to the Giant Center, as long as we take care of business."
From there, Stiles wants to improve on making it to the second round of the state tournament and hopefully go all the way. It's a goal he's set for the team and the focal point for the players and coaches as the start of the season rapidly nears.
YCD competed in scrimmages last weekend and will do so again this weekend before taking part in the Hanover tip-off tournament next weekend.
With the start of every new campaign, each team gets a fresh slate, giving them hope that this year can be better than the last.
When the Greyhounds take the court next Friday night, it'll be the start of a season in which every opponent knows what they accomplished in 2015-16.
But, that won't have any bearing on what this year's YCD team can do.
Now, it's about doing it all over again and, possibly, being even better.
"Everything that we did last year isn't going to be handed to us," Stiles said. "This year, we have to earn it again."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org