HERSHEY — The York Country Day boys' basketball team is making it a habit to show up at Hershey's Giant Center and leave with hardware.
For the second consecutive season, the Greyhounds took to the floor in the District 3 Class 1-A championship game and ended it by hoisting the title trophy. This year's win over Lancaster County Christian, 85-58, was about par for the course with some of YCD's other blowout wins during the year, but it didn't diminish the team's celebration whatsoever.
So much about the Greyhounds' success on Thursday night felt like last season's, yet so much about it was different.
Targeted team: When YCD opened play last year, nobody knew what the team was all about. It didn't take long for the opposition to find out, however. Still, when the Greyhounds lifted the district trophy a year ago, it was the trademark moment for a season that was about the rise of an underdog.
This year, however, every single team in Class 1-A — and even some 2-A and 3-A programs, as well — understood what was in store when you faced YCD. It was the defending district champion and the heavy favorite to repeat, considering it returned every member from last year's team and entered the district tournament as the top seed. So, the path to the Giant Center and another district crown may have been more expected this season, but it came with the added burden of being a targeted team.
"Every game, every team gave us their best," said senior DeAireus Brown, who finished Thursday's game with 29 points. "We knew that from the beginning. Everybody had to come out for us. Last year, we came out of nowhere, 22-0, and everyone wanted to beat us. Coming out with a target on our back, it gave us a push and a pull."
Tougher schedule: Then there was the schedule.
A season ago, there was very little difficulty to the Greyhounds' schedule, as they won the majority of their games by double digits. When they walked off the court at Giant Center in 2016, they were 22-0 and finished the year 23-1.
This year, however, things were drastically different. There was no undefeated season, which was squashed within the first few games of the year. This time, when YCD exited the Giant Center, it was 19-4, but much more tested. There weren't as many blowout wins, and obviously many more losses.
Playing a more difficult schedule, however, and sprinkling in some losses in along the way, admittedly made this Greyhounds team better and more prepared for what awaits in the state tournament.
"We played a tough St. John Neumann team, who was District 4 1-A (champ) and won like 90-plus straight games," said senior Jordan Ray, who poured in a game-high 39 points in the championship game. "We had a game with them where we lost by a little at the end. ... I feel like if we can play with them, we can play with anyone in the state."
Coaching change: Then there was the midseason change in head coaches in January when Corey Stiles was placed on administrative leave. That move garnered a ton of attention, but scarce details made the move even more mysterious.
Stiles, who led YCD to last year's district crown, was replaced by former head coach, current girls' head coach and boys' assistant Chris Charleston.
A coaching change at midseason is never easy for any team, let alone for a group of teenagers, many of whom played for Stiles for much longer than just at YCD, and had success with him. Ray admitted that he contemplated leaving the team when Stiles was removed, but knew it wouldn't be fair to his teammates. Brown said when he saw Stiles in attendance for Thursday's game, it brought tears to his eyes.
Through all of it, the Greyhounds took the challenges they faced in stride. A new voice on the sidelines wasn't going to derail them from achieving their goal.
"We've had really good consistency," Charleston said. "I was an assistant coach the last two years with the team, so when that change had to happen, I stepped in there and the kids really respected me."
Next year's squad will hardly be the same, with Ray and Brown graduating. But, they won't leave the cupboards bare. Guys such as junior D.J. Hamilton and sophomore Jalen Gorham will be back to try to make it a three-peat.
Given the team's history, you can understand why the celebration of this year's district crown was more emphatic than most would've expected out of a heavy preseason favorite. If you've ever played any sport, you know, getting to the top of the mountain is difficult, but it pales in comparison to what it takes to stay atop it.
Factor in everything else that this team endured this year and you can argue that 19-4 feels better than 22-0.
"This is 10 times better," Brown said. "Definitely."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com