Eastern York boys' basketball coach Jon Reichard didn't even make it all the way to senior Jared Achterberg before he sensed the worst.
During a 65-50 win last Monday against York Tech, Achterberg sat on the court in a near panic, according to Reichard, after suffering a significant knee injury. Driving to the hoop, Achterberg jump-stopped, causing the trailing defender to slam into him and make his right knee lock and twist.
Achterberg experienced a torn ACL a few years ago, so as soon as he felt the pain, he knew it was serious.
Achterberg spent the rest of the game on the sideline, fearing that his high school career was over in the blink of an eye. The 6-foot, 4-inch forward was just 81 points shy of 1,000. He was averaging a team-high 20.7 points per game, good for third in the York-Adams League. He was a four-year starter. And it was his birthday.
"My heart dropped," Reichard said. "Not for the team, the score of the game, but for the student-athlete that's laying on the floor."
At the time, the Golden Knights were 10-1 and unbeaten in Y-A League Division II competition. Two nights later, in its first game without Achterberg, Eastern lost for the first time in division play, falling to Dover, dropping into a tie for first with the Eagles.
It was a wake-up call for the Golden Knights that life without Achterberg will offer more rocky waters than smooth sailing. Reichard won't make excuses, though. This is the hand the team was dealt and now it must learn to play with it.
"We decided to approach it that we won't make excuses," Reichard said. "...I'm a big Steelers fan and (head coach Mike Tomlin) always says: 'Next guy up.' And he does it all the time, so I was trying to get them to focus on the next guy up."
Staying positive: On Monday morning, Achterberg received the grim news he fully anticipated — a torn ACL.
His senior season and high school career are officially over. He said the expected recovery time for the injury could be up to a year. For him, now it's all about remaining upbeat for his teammates and continuing to serve as a leader in other ways and staying part of the team.
"I'm offering up my knowledge as a senior to some of the younger kids who have to step up now and being able to help them calm down and play to the best of their abilities," Achterberg said.
He had conversations with several local NCAA Division III schools about continuing to play in college, so now Achterberg is "hoping and praying" they stick with him and give him a chance at the next level.
Finding new roles: Entering Monday's action, Eastern hadn't played since the Dover loss, both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it gave Reichard and his coaching staff a chance to have a couple practices last Thursday and Friday to start from scratch, as he put it, to implement players into their new roles to fill the void left behind by Achterberg.
However, the Golden Knights were scheduled to play a game at Lancaster Catholic on Saturday in a showdown between the top two teams in the District 3 4-A power ratings, but it was canceled because of inclement weather. Reichard said he was looking forward to that game just to see how his players would, not only bounce back from the loss to the Eagles, but respond to their new roles within the team against a strong opponent.
Instead, that had to wait until Monday night when Eastern played host to Susquehanna Township. Then Reichard and the rest of the Y-A League and District 3 got a feel for how the Golden Knights would cope with the loss of their leader. A defeat to an Indians side that entered the night with a sub-.500 record proved that Eastern is still scrambling to find a solution for the loss of Achterberg.
Reichard said that over his last four games, Achterberg was scoring more than 25 points per game. He also knows, however, that it's unrealistic to believe any one or two players can replace that production. He'll turn to fellow seniors Evan Springer and Dom Particelli to expand their leadership roles, while turning to a slew of bench players to collectively replace the minutes Achterberg gobbled up. Most of those players will wind up being lesser-used juniors and inexperienced sophomores, which Reichard hopes will pay dividends for the team next year.
Same expectations: With Achterberg, Eastern was on its way to turning Division II into a one-team race, while looking poised to make a deep league tournament and District 3 tournament run. Without him, all scenarios, right down to the division, are up in the air.
Reichard won't let the loss of one player dictate his team's success, however. His expectations are still the same, and they were echoed by Achterberg. They know that this team has the talent and depth elsewhere to still win Division II, make a run in the Y-A League tournament and try to make it back to the District 3 title game for a second consecutive season.
Achieving those goals became more difficult with the loss of Achterberg.
But, not impossible.
"We're going to have to have some kids step up," Achterberg said. "But, I feel like everyone is capable of doing that and coming together more as a team ... and some people (will need to step) up and (develop) into roles that I felt like I took upon myself ... I feel like our team is able to do that easily."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker@yorkdispatch.com.