(Editor's note: This is another in a series of stories leading up to the start of the York-Adams League winter sports season).
A year after leading the New Oxford girls' basketball team to the York-Adams League championship game, James Kunkle may find that repeating that feat this season will be a significant challenge.
Now the head coach at West York, Kunkle is trading a pair of battles against Division I and state-caliber teams such as Central York and Dallastown for new ones against state-caliber squads such as Susquehannock, Dover, Eastern York and York Suburban in Division II.
In short, the road didn't get any easier for Kunkle, who has ties to the Bulldogs' program from when he was a former assistant coach under Jon Shultz.
“I believe that Division II is going to be just as tough as it was last year,” said Kunkle, who is taking over for Darrell Wildasin, who led the Bulldogs to an 18-9 season in 2016-2017.
“It’s certainly going to be interesting,” he added with a laugh.
The Warriors cruised to the division title a season ago before falling to Kunkle's Colonials in the league playoffs. Coach Dave Schreiner's club figures to be the D-II favorite, with nearly the entire squad back, including juniors Jaden Walker (10.2 points per game) and Jayla Galbreath. Tyler Williams (13.0 points per game), however, graduated, leaving a big hole in the paint, where Williams was adept at collecting rebounds and put-backs.
Dover lost a pair of seniors, including second-leading scorer Rayah Fink (12.3 points per game), but Rajah Fink is still around. Rajah Fink finished second in the league in scoring a season ago while pouring in nearly 19 points a contest.
Eastern York started out hot a season ago under coach Brad Weaver before flaming out at the end. Weaver, however, has nearly his entire cast back for his second go-around, including top scorer Hannah Myers (17.2 ppg).
Suburban plays perhaps the grittiest defense of all the D-II teams. After making the PIAA playoffs for a second year in a row, the Trojans are looking to do it once more on the back of senior Ali Reinecker (9.8 ppg) and others.
Group of six: That brings the focus back to the Bulldogs, who qualified for the PIAA Class 5-A playoffs along with Susquehannock, Dover and Kunkle’s New Oxford squad last year. While everyone seems to be loaded, Kunkle has perhaps the most complete starting five of any team in the division.
“I have a good group of six,” Kunkle said. “After that, it’s all going to depend on who steps up and fills some roles.”
The loss of Catie McCarty, who led West York in scoring at 10.4 ppg, will be felt. But seniors Paige Weekly (9.4 ppg) and Angie Hawkins (8.0 ppg) are excited to see how far they can lead the Bulldogs under Kunkle, even if it does entail more conditioning than they are used to.
“It’s exciting,” Weekly said. “We get out and run a lot, but it pays off. Last year we would get a little tired out in like the third quarter and wouldn’t be able to finish out games. So we’re excited about that.”
Familiar with Kunkle: Most of the West York girls have at least a little first-hand experience with Kunkle, who also coached in the youth ranks while assisting Shultz during his run. Next year’s upcoming freshman class was the last one that Kunkle was with before moving on after Shultz stepped down three years ago.
“We have about three seniors,” Kunkle said. “Just about everyone else is either a freshman or sophomore.”
Kunkle plans to get the most out of his JV team as he can. He anticipates that only six players will suit up exclusively for the varsity squad, with all of the other nine playing between JV and varsity minutes. Kunkle is hoping that those minutes will help get the younger girls some quick experience that they can use to grow later in the season. It will also help them in the future when Kunkle figures to have even more talent and depth on the way.
“We have 15 girls on the roster and, after this year, we’ll only graduate three,” he said. “But my middle school teams are really loaded with a lot of girls that play AAU all year 'round.”
West York begins the 2017-18 season in their tip-off tournament Friday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. against York High. South Western and Bishop McDevitt will play in the other contest at 6 p.m.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.