Senior-laden Barons reload from last year’s magical run

By on December 3, 2014
Manheim Central senior Matt Walsh (right), who averaged a team-best 16.5 ppg last season, is just 46 points shy of 1,000 for his career.

Manheim Central senior Matt Walsh (right), who averaged a team-best 16.5 ppg last season, is just 46 points shy of 1,000 for his career.

The 2013-14 campaign is in the books as the best season ever for the Manheim Central boys basketball team, which finished 24-5 overall. They won the Section Three crown with a 15-1 league record, then advanced to their first-ever District Three Triple-A championship game and on to the PIAA State playoffs.

The good news for the Barons is that they have all of their starting players back from that squad. Leading scorer Matt Walsh (16.5 ppg) is just 46 points shy of 1,000 for his career. But he is just one of nine seniors on a Manheim Central team that is not lacking in experience.

That being said, the Barons must replace three key role players who graduated from last year’s squad in Josh Flanagan, Josiah Ginder and Steve Young, and that is still a work in progress for the Central boys.

Under the leadership of seventh-year coach Chris Sherwood (87-61 overall), who needs just 13 wins to reach 100 in his career at MC, the Barons know that last year is in the past and that nothing will be given to them this winter.

Recently, Sherwood chatted with Lititz Record sports editor Bruce Morgan about the upcoming season. The following is a transcript of their conversation.

Bruce Morgan: What are your early impressions of the team?

Chris Sherwood: With all the experience back, we’ve been able to hit the ground running, we’ve been able to do things in practice that maybe we weren’t able to do until the third or fourth week of practice in years past. We do think we have some defensive deficiencies. We’re continuing to work on those. It goes back to us losing a couple players that were pretty key on the defensive end. We also feel like offensively that we float a little bit at times and stop attacking. We want to continue to attack. But I will say, everybody has problems like this right now, but we need to get better each day. We are in a situation right now where with all the returning guys, we just have to get more crisp and know our roles a little bit more and do those little things.

BM: I’m sure the kids know what they have coming back, so how much are you guarding against overconfidence?

CS: We talk about respecting every opponent and we’ve talked about some things here in the first couple of weeks that can really be our own demise, so to speak. And these are things that they’re aware of. But I think most importantly, we were able to discuss that at the end of years, you are remembered in some way. And last year, that banner changes up on the wall to a Section championship 2014. If you look outside in the trophy case, you’ll see the Section championship, you’ll see the District runner-up medal hanging in the trophy case. And that signifies an end to something and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. I think the players get that. That’s over. That’s the past because we have the accolades to show for that success. But we’ve done nothing right now. We’re focusing on this weekend trying to a win a tournament (Hamburg Tip-Off) that we didn’t even win last year. We’ve focused on, what are we trying to do this year because last year is over.

BM: Last year, you didn’t have point guard Tony Staffieri for the start of the season due to injury. How big of a difference does that make for your team having him earlier this time around?

CS: We were lost last December. We were traveling to the scrimmage this past weekend and the coaches and I were talking on the bus about where we are right now. I made the idiotic comment of, ‘Are we ahead of where we were last year at this point?’ And coach Quinn quickly reminded me, ‘Yes, Tony Staffieri is on the bus and he’s healthy.’ So we’re instantly ahead of the game having a healthy Tony. He’s really something else. We’ve always said that multi-sport athletes bring a different sense of toughness and competitiveness to a team. And here’s a guy who walks into the gym the first day and you hear his voice. He’s not yelling at anybody. It’s not his demeanor to yell. He’s encouraging and talking to everybody. That’s being the quarterback of the football team right there. That’s not something we had last year, so it’s a big difference when we’re talking about someone bringing leadership and some understanding. Again, I don’t have to say anymore, ‘Hey, these guys have played big games in other sports.’ These guys have played big games in basketball. Tony’s played some huge games against McCaskey and West York and made big plays last year for us. So a healthy Tony takes a heck of a lot of pressure off these other guys who we lean on for everything.

BM: Not to take anything away from your other kids, but Matt Walsh was your leading scorer last year and did a lot of things for you. How much better can he be this year for you?

CS: I will tell you this, as a coaching staff, we relied on him a lot. He’s really skilled and can do a lot of different things for us. And we actually relied on him to do things that he just happened to be the best at, but maybe weren’t the best for him. Well, this year we’ve really focused on &tstr; with that group of supporters coming back &tstr; what makes Matt really successful and I’m really excited about Matt Walsh this season. I feel like as coaches this year, we’re going to do him better.

BM: Can you talk about each of the kids that you expect to play roles for you this year and just say a little bit about each one of them?

CS: Absolutely. We’ll start with Matt, and like I said, Matt is the guy that I’m really excited about. We kinda threw Matt to the wolves as a freshman and sophomore. In many ways, we were putting junior and senior roles on his shoulders as a freshman and sophomore when as a freshman, he could have been in eighth grade. So I’m excited for Matt this year. We’re going to be able to put him in spots to be really successful and he’s been incredibly successful and incredibly willing to anything that we’ve asked of him for so long.

Tony Staffieri brings us leadership and brings us a point guard. He’s incredibly coachable. He’s a kid that you tell him something once and he expects himself to get it right the next time. He’s an extension of the coaching staff on the floor. That’s really, really important. He’s strong, he’s athletic. Dan Wiederrecht is a stud. Dan missed most of his football season, so pity the fool who tries to defend Dan for the first two weeks because I think he’s got a head of steam and he’s rolling forward. He’s incredibly competitive. I like to say that he reminds me of myself a little bit, but boy, that’s a complete insult. But one thing that I was was incredibly competitive at everything I did. Even to this day, I don’t want to lose to my 8-year-old daughter in Chutes and Ladders. So that’s one thing we love about him is his competitive edge.

Tanner Brenize played the second half of the soccer season completely hurt. We know the kind of toughness he brings to the team, he’s an incredible defender and again, he was the leader of a really good soccer team. That makes us better instantly. Colin Brubaker is another guy who’s returning, another guy who’s from that really good soccer team. He probably has improved what he does well as much as anybody we’ve seen.

BM: Which is what?

CS: Defend, rebound, gets his hands on balls. We are athletic, so any time we can get tips on the defensive end and try to lead that into transition, we’re in good shape. And he gets his hands on a lot of balls. Taylor Funk, he’s 6-foot-8 and plays a perimeter spot and an inside spot. This is why I always talk about coaching being such an over-rated trait. I have a 6-foot-8 kid who can shoot the ball from the perimeter and play the post. I’ve done nothing different than my teams that we scrapped to win 13 games. Taylor is another guy who is incredibly likable and a great teammate who is almost unselfish to a fault at times. He’s young, he’s still learning, his body is still maturing. But we’re excited again about the burst that he can give our team. And again, he’s 6-foot-8 if I didn’t mention that before. He’s already gotten an offer from Boston U.

Ryan Carlino is a senior transfer from E-town. Pretty athletic kid who played a bunch of minutes for E-town last year and is in the mix to see some time. He’s still learning the system. But he does move his feet well defensively. He just puts us in a situation to get us looks and to defend. Assuming we can iron out those little kinks just of uncertainty, he’ll be OK.

Blake Reiff is playing. He’s the All-State shortstop. Same deal as Ryan &tstr; we just have to iron out the kinks of not being around the program. He played in the program through ninth grade and then didn’t play his 10th and 11th grade years. But like I said, he does give us another guy who’s played in other sports and has a competitive edge and understands what it takes to win games. He can obviously help us.

We’re probably about 10 deep and that moves us to Alex Sensenich, who was the JV point guard last year. Alex will be able to give Tony a spell and Alex understands everything we’re trying to do. He’s another guy who is really coachable, wants to do the right thing for the team and is aggressive. When he plays aggressive, he’s good. We just have to keep his motor on 10 and not let it drop down and he’ll be really successful for us this year too.

We have two other underclassmen, Kody Kegarise, who actually filled in for Tony as the back-up quarterback. He’s a sophomore but another guy who’s played multiple sports &tstr; we like that. He brings another guard into the mix who rebounds, who does a lot of the little things. He’s got to be ready to go next year. That leads to Roman Wagner, who’s another sophomore. Kody, Roman and Taylor are all sophomores. Roman’s about a 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2 forward who in years past on some of my other teams, he would have played as a sophomore … substantial minutes. He probably won’t get a ton of time this year, but he will get time.

BM: With an experienced group back, do you expect to play a similar style to the one you had last year?

CS: Actually, we’ve changed a lot. Some of our defensive schemes are different. We have tinkered around with our offense like I talked to you earlier about some of the situations we’re going to put our players in to be more successful. I think we’re pretty creative. I can remember this summer saying to myself, ‘I can’t stop. I have to new and different things,’ just to make sure that our guys know that I’m not satisfied. We have a system and I think we’re still going to be tough and physical and get on the floor for loose balls. We’re still going to be respectful and help guys up and hand balls to officials. It’s who we are. But I think that some of the things between the whistles will be a little bit different.

BM: You talked about coachability and experience being some of your strengths. Are there any other strengths you can talk about with this team?

CS: I don’t want this to go unrecognized … I coach great kids. I don’t coach good kids, I don’t coach kids that are just happy to be there. I coach the best kids around. When I can walk into practice and I know for a fact that I have 23 kids in that gym that are not going to be disrespectful to me, they’re not going to be disrespectful to their teammates, they want to absorb what you want to teach them &tstr; I can then be incredibly respectful to them but at the same time, push them to a limit that they didn’t think they could go to. I know I sound like a broken record &tstr; these kids are absolutely fantastic to coach. They don’t want to let down me, they don’t want to let down their teammates. Without question, no matter what the outcomes are this year, I am the luckiest guy to be able to coach this group. Without question.

BM: What are the goals of this team?

CS: Our goals never change from five years ago to where we are today. Our goal is to be competitive in every game. And yes, we expect to win games. Our goal is to be put in a situation of going to Districts. If we’re put in a situation of going to Districts, then weird things can happen. You can be down one to Conrad Weiser and Tony can get pushed with nine seconds left and go to the line, tie it up and we get to go to the Giant Center. Tanner can hit a ‘three’ at the Giant Center and then we can be down six in the fourth quarter of the next-round game and somehow find a way to win again, and boom, all of a sudden you’re playing in the District championship game. So all you have to do is get yourself in a situation to be there and then you get to prepare and play in the greatest tournament of all the sports around here. Then if you’re successful, you can go try to do something in States. Those are all of our goals. But our goals just start one day at a time here because that’s how you get into that situation to be able to do those things, by being successful day in and day out right now.

BM: You’re going to be picked by everybody to win the Section this year. How do you see the Section race shaping up?

CS: I’m really flattered that we are going to be picked by everybody because I understand that we are going to be. But in my experience being in this league for seven of the last nine years and watching it for the past 15 years, Cocalico and L-S have always been the class of this Section. So I’m not naive. When I think about those two teams, I still think about two teams that are incredibly well-coached and the kids play incredibly hard. I’m surely not taking any of the predictions as our crowning. We need to get through some really good teams. Those two teams I think have the potential to be really good teams. Again, it’s because they’re incredibly well-coached, they have good players. Cocalico probably has the best player in the league (Tucker Lescoe). He’s awesome, he’s a hard-worker and the way he moves, I’m just really impressed by him. So that will be a really tall task for us. Obviously, I think the other teams are still improving.

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