The 2015-16 high school boys' basketball season was a memorable one for York-Adams League fans.
Central York and Eastern York both made runs to their respective District 3 championship games. The league saw Spring Grove's Eli Brooks emerge as one of the state's best players. And York Catholic had one of its best seasons in years under the guidance of first-year head coach Blaine Claiborne.
As the season ended, however, some big changes occurred, sending shock waves throughout the league. It started with York High head coach Troy Sowers resigning after 10 years with the team and building the Bearcats into one of the top big-school programs in the state. Bill Ackerman later stepped down as West York head coach after nearly two highly successful decades with the program. In addition, a move that will have a huge impact on this season was Northeastern's decision to move up to Division I so it could face more District 3 5-A and 6-A schools.
Those story lines are just a few that will be worth watching in the upcoming season.
Division I: The Bobcats move to this division is, without a doubt, the biggest story line to begin the 2016-17 season.
With their move, this division becomes even more loaded, which didn't seem possible. Northeastern makes the switch as the reigning Division II champion, going a perfect 14-0 in division play last season and 21-3 overall. The Bobcats originally applied to move up to Division I two years ago when the program was re-classed as a 4-A school, but put the request in too late to take affect for the new two-year scheduling cycle at the time. So, Northeastern maintained the request and was granted permission to move up to Division I during the offseason. The Bobcats lost several notable players to graduation in Donovian Maxfield, Jeff Reynolds and Kobi Nwandu, but can now turn to senior Brandon Coleman and juniors Fred Mulbah and Antonio Rizzuto to pick up the lost production.
Reigning Division I champion Central York could be expected to take a step back from last year's 12-0 division mark and runner-up finish in the District 3 4-A tournament with the loss of Jared Wagner and Onterio Edmonds, but it's hard to ever fully count out a Kevin Schieler-coached squad. Now, the Panthers will turn to guys such as Niko Sobestanovich, Tommy O'Neill and Courtney Batts — players who had major roles in making last year's season such a strong one for Central York.
Few teams lost as much as Spring Grove did from its starting five from a year ago, but let's see if it matters. Players such as Brooks can more than make up for losses of other experienced pieces. Brooks led the league in scoring a season ago, averaging nearly 25 points per game as a junior and earning PIAA Class 4-A second-team all-state recognition. Now, the Michigan-commit will have all eyes on him whenever he plays, but that was also the case last season and it hardly impacted him. The Rockets are coming off a season in which they went 25-4 overall and won the Y-A League title. Brooks enters the season with 1,525 career points, just 151 shy of the school record, which he should reach within the first month of the season. The Rockets have some bench players returning in Jonathan Sager, Jake Messersmith and Drew Gordon to complement Brooks.
The Bearcats will begin life without Sowers as their head coach. The school hired his longtime assistant, Clovis Gallon, to take over. The 2015-16 season was a down year for York High at just 12-11 overall, which included first-round exits in the league and District 3 4-A tournaments. To go along with that, the team's three best players — Trey Shifflett, Montrel Morgan and Kris Johnson — all graduated. Waiting in the wings are returning starters Jayden Iturmendi and Jacquez Casiano, as well as senior forward Messiah Anderson and junior guard Kyree Generett. It'll certainly be a trying season for the Bearcats, especially playing their nomally tough schedule, but expect this team to still hang around in the Division I race, as usual.
Just to show how deep this division will be, Dallastown could very well be a fifth team from it to qualify for the District 3 postseason. The Wildcats were 11-11 last season, but bring back much of their roster from a year ago, including second-leading scorer Brandon McGlynn and Da'Trail Albert. Both are only juniors on a very junior-laden team. This could be a squad that takes the next step and challenges for a berth in the league tournament before really becoming a threat to challenge for the Division I crown two years from now when other programs graduate a number of players after this season.
"I think defense is a big thing," Dallastown head coach Mike Grassel said at Y-A League winter sports media day. "If you look, last year, the best teams in the area, district and state held teams in the 40s consistently, so I think defensively we need to tighten it up on a consistent basis."
Red Lion, New Oxford and South Western will all look to have bounce-back seasons after below-.500 marks a year ago. Both the Lions and Colonials have the makeup to potentially get above .500, with Red Lion finishing just a game below that mark a season ago, while New Oxford played some of the division's top teams tough a year ago and return a number of quality players.
Division II: With the loss of Northeastern to Division I and no team moving down from Division I or up from Division III, this division will now be comprised of only seven teams.
With the Bobcats being the reigning Division II champions, that leaves the division even more wide open for the upcoming season. Right off the bat, Eastern York becomes a possible favorite to capture the crown, finishing second to Northeastern last year and coming off a District 3 3-A runner-up finish. The Golden Knights did lose Broguen Nicholas to graduation, the team's leading scorer the past two seasons. However, Jared Achterberg, Dom Particelli and Evan Springer will be more than capable of replacing not only the scoring load left behind by Nicholas, but also Jarad Woods and Colby Shimmel.
West York finished third in the division, but will begin life without Ackerman. Garrett Bull takes the reins of the program in his first-ever varsity coaching position. The Bulldogs lost a lot from last year's team, with only two returning players who saw varsity time last season. Those guys are seniors Kenton Meckley and Jadakis Fields, two players who will be relied upon heavily to lead West York this season. However, the team will still have four seniors on the roster, so the senior leadership should be plentiful to help Bull along in his first year.
Gettysburg could take a step back from a year ago, especially after graduating leading scorer Marquis Camel and seeing second-leading scorer Ravaughn Dilliard transfer. The Warriors finished fourth in the division a year ago and it's hard to see them finishing better than that this year after the blows they endured in the offseason.
Dover was a pesky team in 2015-16, going 14-11 overall, but just couldn't come up with wins against the division's top teams. Now, the Eagles will deal with a really young group, with no seniors on the roster this season and just two juniors. Realistically, this looks like a team about two years away from really battling for a league playoff berth, but Dover has been a team that's exceeded expectations year in and year out under head coach Brian Schmoyer.
"We're a very young group, but have some experience," Schmoyer said at media day. "...It's a really nice group. Unselfish group. Play hard and play well together."
Susquehannock and York Suburban could be two teams that could build off of losing seasons a year ago. Both will have a steady dose of seniors on the team replacing players lost to graduation. The Warriors went just 7-15 overall a year ago, while the Trojans were a game worse at 6-16. Suburban may be sparked by the return of former longtime head coach Tom Triggs to the sideline. In his previous stint at Suburban, Triggs established himself as one of the top coaches in the county.
Kennard-Dale will try to get out of the cellar of Division II after winning just once in division play last season. However, one thing working in the Rams' favor could be new head coach Jake Roupe. He's followed this group of players up through the ranks from middle school until now, so brighter days could be on the way for a K-D team that will look to make a move into the middle of the Division II pack this year.
Division III: Last year, there was little question as to who the best team in Division III was.
That honor went to York Catholic and the team's perfect 14-0 mark in division play. Unfortunately for the rest of the teams in Division III, the Fighting Irish look to be a team poised to sit atop the pecking order for the division for a second straight year.
If there's one way to ensure that there won't be any drop off from one great year to the next, it usually starts by not losing too many players to graduation. In the case of York Catholic, it didn't. More specifically, it didn't lose any members from its starting five from a year ago and will also return at least four members of its bench. Part of that group coming back is leading scorer Melik Martin, who averaged 14.0 points per game as a junior.
"We have height, we have speed, we have strength, we're all smart," Martin said at media day. "...Our bench is like the (Golden State) Warriors. It's no ordinary bench."
Delone Catholic and Hanover are two teams that regularly contend with the Fighting Irish in Division III, but will need to be something special this season if they want a shot to upend the reigning title holders.
For the Nighthawks, this is the second straight year they're entering the year having graduated their leading scorer from a season ago. Kyle Krout finished second in the Y-A League in 2015-16 averaging 22.1 points per game. In fact, Hanover graduated its two leading scorers, with Will McQueen (11.0 ppg) also gone from last year's 16-8 side. That leaves two big holes to fill, which the Nighthawks will most likely expect Hunter Martz to help fill, the highest returning scorer from last year who matched McQueen's point-per-game output.
The Squires could be the team that best competes with York Catholic this year. Logan Alexander returns as one of Delone's top performers.
After the Fighting Irish, Hanover and Delone Catholic, no other team finished above .500 in division play a year ago, so it'll be interesting to see which team takes the next step to contend with the top three. Even the Squires finished below .500 overall with an 11-13 mark, but went 10-4 in division competition. Biglerville was the next closest team to .500 overall, going 9-13 last season, but went just 4-10 in division play. Littlestown was 6-7 in Division III, good for fourth, but went just 8-14 overall.
The basketball season is always sure to bring surprises over the course of the season, so it wouldn't come as a shock to see at least two or three new teams qualify for the Y-A League playoffs that weren't part of the tournament a year ago.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org