Warriors focused on Section Two title

By on December 5, 2018

Warwick boys hoops coach Chris Christensen was tuned in closely to the fall sports season.

A fan in general, he was also keeping tabs on his athletes who were competing during that time.

And Christensen certainly liked what he saw.

Four Warrior teams — football, soccer, golf, and cross country — won Section championships.

The hope is that it’s a sign of good things to come.

“When other teams win, it helps everybody,” Christensen said. “The good part about that is it carries over into winter sports a lot of times. Obviously, we’re really excited that they had a successful season in pretty much all of our fall sports which our multi-sport athletes are a part of, so them coming into this basketball season and expecting to win is huge.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Warrior boys have four of five starters back from the team which finished 5-9 L-L, 6-15 overall last winter. Among that group are their top two leading scorers in seniors Ryan Shirk (11.2 ppg) and Colby Martin (9.7).

Plus, Christensen believes they have a deep squad — one which includes size with the likes of sophomores Nolan Rucci (6-foot-8) and Caleb Schmitz (6-foot-4) — and he is pleased with his players’ improvement since the end of 2017-18.

“We have some height that we haven’t had the last couple years, so it’s allowing us to do some things that we haven’t been able to do offensively and defensively,” Christensen said. “Obviously, we bring back a fair amount of our scoring … Ryan Shirk, Colby Martin, Joey McCracken, that’s a good chunk of scoring and these guys have played. There’s nobody really running out there that hasn’t played serious varsity minutes. So that’s a good thing for us.”

That experience should help make the Warriors a contender in Section Two this winter, bumping down from Section One. They are one of three 6A schools battling in that race, joining E-town and Lebanon. Conestoga Valley and Ephrata round out Section Two.

“I think it definitely benefits us (going to Section Two),” Christensen said. “It sounds a little different, but playing 6As that are close to your size, than 6As that are double your size, benefits us.”

Their old friends from Section One are still on the schedule, but now as crossover games. That means they will face each of those squads just one time, rather than playing them both home and away during the campaign.

“Having the experience playing against an all-6A schedule like that, where other schools in our Section haven’t, I think it’s good,” Christensen said.

McCracken (7.3 ppg), a 6-foot-2 sophomore, gained some valuable experience, not only starting at point guard for the Warwick boys last season, but then throwing for 1,894 yards and 27 TDs at quarterback for the football team this fall.

“I think everything slows down for him going through it once,” Christensen said. “It’s pretty unique to have a freshman point guard in 6A Section One basketball starting for you. So just going through that the first time, you can see in practice he knows what to expect, he knows what we’re doing, so I think he’ll make some pretty big strides this year in the games, compared to last year.”

In Martin (5-foot-11) and Shirk (6-foot-2), the Warriors will have a couple of dangerous shooters from the outside. Those two combined for 85 three-pointers in 2017-18, with Martin knocking down 47 from beyond the arc and Shirk adding 38.

“Ryan really worked on his game and got a lot better this off-season playing Cats AAU. I call him just a ‘hoopster.’ He’s done nothing but get better,” Christensen said. “Colby Martin is intense, he can shoot really well, but also defensively, he brings a lot.”

In general, Warwick’s guards figure to be a team strength, with others including seniors Brock Fassnacht (6-foot-3) and Trysten George (6-foot-1), and juniors Conor Adams (5-foot-11), Zavier Cosme (5-foot-10), Justin Gerhart (5-foot-10), and Ethan Minnich (6-foot-0) also opening eyes.

“A guy like Conor Adams does a lot for us. Also Brock Fassnacht, and the same thing with Trysten,” Christensen said. “Each year, we have Trysten pretty much guard the best player on the other team. For him, he started doing that when he was a sophomore, so he was guarding seniors and how he’s a senior and he’s only gotten better at doing that. So I just think across the board, our guards are (good), and then we have a guy like Ethan Minnich who comes in and he’s just a dog, a pain the neck, and can really give other teams some problems. We have a guy like Justin Gerhart, a defensive guy, but there’s a lot of guards there that we have options to go to. Zavier Cosme can do a good job scoring the ball, but he also defends too.”

Expect the Warriors to get out and run with the ball, playing an up-tempo style. At the same time, however, they have plenty of sets to run, given the presence of more big people on their roster.

“Before, we were really relying on the three-point ball,” Christensen said. “And part of our theory of going to play in the West Reading Summer League where you play outside and it’s windy and it’s hot and you never know what you’re going to get was we’re not going to shoot the ball well every night. So when we’re not, what’s our plan? We worked a lot on that this summer.”

Among the Warriors’ graduation losses was Bryan Rottkamp, who handled a lot of the rebounding responsibilities, in addition to scoring nearly 10 points a game. But Schmitz, 6-foot-1 junior Broden Price, and Rucci will look to be a force inside. Carter Forney, Nate Martin, and Clayton Mohler each also started games and contributed in their final high school season last year.

“Caleb Schmitz, halfway through last year, started playing a fair amount of big minutes for us, and him just becoming stronger (is a benefit),” Christensen said. “Nolan Rucci being 6-foot-8, there’s not many of those guys walking around everywhere, so that’s a huge benefit to us and Brody Price too. He does a lot of things that basketball coaches see — he gets a lot of people open, he’s scrappy, he gets a lot of offensive rebounds. He does a lot of things like Rottkamp did, just in terms of rebounding and doing a lot of the tough stuff.”

A year ago, the Warriors suffered eight losses by just six points or less — four of those in OT.

Not much separated Warwick (55.3 ppg) from its opponents (58.8) in the final scoring averages. Obviously, however, Christensen would like to see those numbers flipped this winter, noting that they spent a lot of time in the off-season working on situational play and trying to improve.

“I think we have a lot more experience now and a lot of guys who can handle the ball,” he said.

Elizabethtown isn’t lacking for experience either, and they promise to be a challenger in Section Two.

“Elizabethtown is pretty good,” Christensen said. “They’ve got a good coach, they have a lot back, so they’re pretty experienced. They’re kinda similar to us where they’ve just been kinda building up. So they’re pretty tough. Honestly, playing in the West Reading Summer League, we didn’t really see everybody as much as (we would), like, if you play the Nook schedule all the time. Everybody in our Section has one or two pretty good players, so we just have to do a good job of knowing our scouting report, knowing who we’ve got to stop, knowing who can shoot, who can’t, who goes left, who goes right. I think if we do that, we’ll be able to accomplish what we want to.”

Number one at the top of the Warriors’ goals is winning the Section championship, just like many of Warwick’s fall sports teams did.

“I think it’s a very realistic goal,” Christensen said. “That’s our guys’ goal, that’s our mindset, and nobody can really tell us otherwise. That’s our opinion on it, so that’s what we’re going for. Then if that happens, everything else takes care of itself — Districts and whatever happens from there. But (winning the Section) is our first goal.”

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