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Warriors are young, but talented and hopeful
Warwick boys basketball coach Jeff Landis describes his players on this year’s team with two words.
Athletes and competitors.
“Those two things together I’m hoping lead to good things,” said Landis (64-76 overall), who is entering his seventh year at the helm.Those characteristics will serve them well as they move on this season from losing seven players to graduation a year ago, when the Warwick boys finished 10-11 and suffered a 51-38 loss to Central Dauphin in a District Three Quad-A play-in game.
Those departures included Tyler Morris and Matt Engle, who both averaged in double figures with 11.1 and 10.5 points per game. Morris, despite missing 11 games with injuries, also had a team-high 20 three-pointers and 5.3 rebounds per game, just ahead of Chris Devlin’s 4.1 boards. Overall, the Warriors lost their top five leading scorers, including K’shawn Mickens (8.5), Tyler Stief (6.5) and Colby Weit (4.2).
“We’re fairly young,” Landis said, “but we have a lot of juniors who had some success at JV last year, and then Jake (Shillady) and Austin (Myers) got a lot of minutes last year.”
Landis and Co. are well aware that outsiders, pointing to the loss of seven seniors, will pick them to finish in the bottom half of Section One this winter, and truth be told, they are OK with those low expectations.“I just shake my head and agree and say, ‘Oh yeah,’” Landis said. “But what I say to my team is different. Last time someone told us we weren’t going to be very good, we ended up making the State playoffs (in 2009-10) and it’s a very similar team. If (our players) buy in, this is high school sports, so anything is possible and I believe these kids understand that. They have talent. They’ll just have to continue to grow together. Sometimes expectations just make things a little more difficult. We don’t have the weight of the world on our shoulders thinking this is our year, but we’re going to approach it the same way we would many other years.”
That has worked from the standpoint that Warwick has qualified for Districts in three of the past four years. Despite their heavy graduation losses, it is the Warriors’ goal to get back there again this winter, in addition to challenging for one of Section One’s two L-L playoff berths.
Myers (2.4 ppg) and Shillady (3.8 ppg), two of four seniors on the roster, will certainly be key pieces for the Warriors.
Shillady, a 6-foot-3 forward/center, scored in double figures twice for Warwick last year, including 14 points in the District loss to CD.
“He’s a very good 3-point shooter – you only saw it a couple times last year, but I think you’ll see more of that this year – and he also has the ability to score inside,” Landis said. “I think he will be one of our primary scorers.”
Myers will also get his points for Warwick. Coming off a football season in which he battled a couple of injuries, the 6-foot-3 forward is healthy and ready to go.
“He looked great (in Warwick’s first scrimmage against Owen J. Roberts). He shot the ball well, he is someone that really bumps people on defense, doesn’t allow them to get where they want to get,” Landis said. “Austin is an athlete. He guards, he gets to the basket to get easy points. He’s well ahead of where I thought he’d be coming off of football.”
Forward/guard Matt Pennypacker (6-foot-1), the starting QB on Warwick’s football team, and Taylor Slagle (6-0) are the other two seniors for the Warriors this winter.
Landis likes the depth and versatility they have on this team. With the personnel that the Warriors have on their roster, they have the ability to play both big and small.Although the Warwick boys don’t have as much height as they did in 2012-13, Landis believes they have individuals who can play bigger than their size. Shillady, and juniors Jordan Cipalla (6-2), James Willis (6-2) and Grant Zimmerman (5-11) are athletic enough to guard big. Junior Nate Miller is 6-foot-4 and more of a perimeter guy, but he too can score, and junior Adam Wagaman (6-3) is a nice presence if Warwick is playing a big team. Overall, Warwick has six juniors on the roster.
In the backcourt, Warwick figures to lean on both junior Damian Soto and sophomore Colin Gibble at the point.
“It depends who’s going – they both can score the ball extremely well, they’re both good shooters, so if one of them gets on a roll, we’ll have the other one look for him,” Landis said. “A lot of teams have a ball hawk, and if they want to put him on one kid, the other kid can bring it down.”
As last year progressed, Landis thought that Soto became one of the team’s more steady players and he’s looking for him to build on that.
“I really have a lot of confidence in Damian,” Landis said. “His ability to shoot the basketball has improved and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. You’ve got to believe in yourself and I think Damian’s doing that right now.”
Gibble and Cipalla bring a scoring pedigree with them, having finished as the leading point-getters for the Warriors’ JV team last year.
“(Jordan) does a little bit of everything,” Landis said. “He’s a hustler, a scrapper and he shoots the ball well.”
The Warriors are switching their offense a little bit this year, opening things up slightly as they try to capitalize on their athleticism. Landis believes they could prove difficult for others to prepare for them because of their ability to spread the scoring around.
Defensively, don’t be surprised to see Warwick giving its opponents different looks on defense, with some full-court zone press. In their first scrimmage against Owen J. Roberts, Warwick held the Wildcats under double figures in four of six quarters.
“I think we have the ability to score the ball, so if we can hold people down, I like our chances,” Landis remarked.
Certainly, the Warriors have plenty of work to do before opening their season at the Donegal Tip-Off Tournament on Dec. 6-7. Landis and his assistants are still in the process of trying to iron out roles for their players.
But Warwick’s skipper doesn’t believe any one team in Section One is going to run away in the race this winter. If his Warriors can gel, Landis is hoping they will be in the mix.
“Our number one thing as a coaching staff that we discuss is coming together as a team – trusting in each other, believing in each other, playing for each other because we have ability,” he said. “We just have to do it together. Honestly, I feel it comes down to determination and effort with us, and I’m pretty sure that this group of players will leave it on the floor.”