More than anyone else, first-year Kennard-Dale boys' basketball coach Jake Roupe knew what his Rams team was capable of this season.
Entering a year in which there were lots of unknowns within the York-Adams League Division II landscape, Roupe realized that his Rams could open some eyes. He's been with this core group of players since he was first hired out of college at age 21 and assigned to the lower levels of the K-D basketball program.
As the players moved up the ranks, he followed them, eventually nailing down the varsity head coaching gig this past offseason.
At the youthful age of 26, Roupe is too young to remember the golden years of Rams boys' basketball, when the program won Division II titles in 1992, 1993 and 1995 behind standout players such as Adam Miller and Aaron Eaton. Even during that period, when K-D wasn't winning division crowns, it was at least competitive and making the league tournament.
What he is old enough to remember, however, is the more recent period of dismal basketball, when the Rams were fighting just to win a few games each year and usually found themselves at the bottom of the D-II standings. Those recent woes have made this season all the more enjoyable for the folks in the Fawn Grove area, giving them a bit of a glimpse into the past and hope for the future.
"I knew that the effort was always going to be there and they'd never quit," Roupe said. "So, I figured, once we put it all together, there's definitely a shot that we could do something."
Joining the conversation: With the loss of Northeastern to D-I, the team to beat in D-II fell to Eastern York, a team which finished as runner-up to Bishop McDevitt in the District 3 3-A playoffs a season ago. It played out that way to open the year. The Golden Knights began the season 11-1. However, the loss of leading scorer Jared Achterberg to a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee quickly opened up the D-II race and K-D was more than willing to throw its hat into the mix.
At the start of the year, Roupe said he and his players set the goal to make the postseason, whether it was through the league tournament or in districts. Right now, the Rams are in position to do both, sitting in third place in D-II at 5-3, a game behind Dover and Eastern York in the loss column, while also occupying the No. 9 spot in the District 3 4-A power ratings, with the top 10 teams making the tournament.
Roupe also realizes, however, that as the season progresses, so too do expectations. He welcomes those expectations. With his team in the hunt to snap a 21-season division title drought, why not go for it all?
"I say every day at practice that (the division) is up in the air," Roupe said. "It could be ours. ... I think every game we have left is winnable, but they're going to be competitive. None of them are going to be givens."
Tough finish: To enter the league tournament as the top seed in D-II won't be easy for K-D. Of its remaining five games, four of them are D-II clashes and four of them will be on the road, including the next three. Sitting at 8-9 overall after Monday's loss to a powerhouse, one-loss Manheim Central outfit, you'd have to expect the Rams will need to win at least three of them to have a realistic shot of making the district tournament as a .500 team.
What works in K-D's favor is the fact that it doesn't rely on one star player, or even one or two standouts. The Rams are a team in every sense of the word, rallying behind a player if he gets hot. Each player understands his role in any given game. Adam Freese is the only Ram averaging in double figures at 19.1 points per game.
"No one cares who scores. No one cares who gets their name in the paper," Roupe said. "They're all best friends. They're happy for one another. If Adam Freese scores 30, there's no kid on the team that's jealous. ... It works the other way around. If Adam scores five, he wouldn't care, as long as we win."
It's been a while since there's been any sort of buzz surrounding the boys' basketball program at K-D, but, the buzz is back this year.
Fans are anxious to show up to home games and there's a student section again that rivals any of the other student sections in the Y-A League.
Holding a two-game lead over the fourth-place team in D-II, two more division wins will secure a spot in the league tournament for the Rams, fulfilling Roupe's goal at the start of the season.
With a showdown at Eastern York awaiting K-D on Tuesday night, a win there will only further the team's dreams of being division champion.
Roupe was too young to remember the glory days of Rams basketball, while his players weren't even born yet. All they know is the recent down years.
Right now, however, they're on their way to reviving the program.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org