BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – The Elco boys are enjoying arguably the best basketball season in program history. Colton Lawrence is arguably the best player in program history.
Now, if you’d make some sort of connection between those two facts, well, you probably won’t get a lot of argument about it.
Lawrence and the Raiders are approaching the top of the stretch of an historic career and season. While they have accomplished many things during the 2015-16 campaign, Elco and Lawrence don’t own many things they can reach out and physically touch.
But ultimately, when it does conclude, what they will be left with will be something that no one will ever be able to take away from them – unforgettable memories.
“It does matter,” said Lawrence, Monday after practice. “It stinks not seeing our names on a banner. But I believe we’re the best team in Elco history. The whole postseason has been a great ride. It’s special for me and Caleb (Buchmoyer). We’ve seen the program turn around. I told Coach (Brad) Conners that we were going to get him one (season) like this. This whole team has just been real special for me.
“There’s a couple of games we didn’t show up,” continued Lawrence. “McCaskey, and I wish we could’ve pulled out one of those Lampeter-Strasburg games. It just seems that solid reward hasn’t come our way. You want to hold that trophy, or piece of net. But I just look back at the great time I’ve had with these guys.”
“I can go back to some teams I’m familiar with,” said Conner, the Raiders’ current head man and a former Elco player. “I do feel like this might be the best Elco team we’ve ever had. I’m not afraid to say that. We have a lot of pieces. There’s not many pieces we don’t have.
“At the beginning of the season, we talked about which teams would be at the top of our section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League), and our goal was to beat those teams,” added Conners. “The section was a goal, and getting to Giant Center was a big goal. I’m still coming off that loss to Eastern York (in the quarterfinals of the District Three playoffs). It’s been fun. It’s been great.”
The Raiders’ task of keeping their story-book season going seems monumental, but not impossible.
After finishing fifth in the recently completed District Three Class AAA tournament, the 22-5 Raiders will meet District 12 runner-up and defending state Class AAA champion Neumann-Goretti on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia, in the opening round of the PIAA postseason. It will be Elco’s first ever foray into the state playoffs, in the program’s more than 50 years of existence.
“We still have a chance at getting to Giant Center,” said Lawrence. “That would be a tough road. It’s going to be an awesome experience playing against those guys (the Saints). If we’re giving our best effort, I’m going to be extremely proud of the guys. Some people have called it David versus Goliath. But it would be wrong for any team to go into the state tournament with the mindset that it can’t win the whole thing.
“There’ll be a little regret looking back at the Eastern York and McCaskey games,” Lawrence continued. “Our goal was to win the section, the league and districts. But it’s still great to have an opportunity to go to states. It’s crazy how close we got to those goals, but the guys have made it a really fun ride.”
“It’s one game at a time,” said Conners. “We’re going to play this game, and we’re approaching it like we can win it. They (the Saints) have good players too. We respect them. But it’s not a best-of-seven series. I’m looking forward to it. I feel like we’ve got something to prove.
“It’s been a great ride,” Conners added. “We’ve had a lot of fun. Some of the goals we didn’t get were disappointing, and we changed the goals along the way. We’ve had a lot of wins, but we’ve just enjoyed the kids. You get to feel a connection with the kids.”
Lawrence has certainly placed his own personal stamp on the Raiders’ program, even going so far as to help change the climate and culture of it. As he has elevated his level of play each year, Elco’s win total has gone up.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me,” said Lawrence of his career accomplishments. “After that last game, I’m going to have to sit down and think about it. But I don’t want to let it sink in as long as we have games ahead of us.
“The most important thing to me is that I try to be the hardest worker,” Lawrence added. “If anyone asks who’s the hardest worker on the team, I want them to name me, without a question. Coach Conners is a phenomenal vocal leader, and he’s great at keeping our heads where they need to be.”
“I think he’s the best,” said Conners. “I think he’s the most complete player we’ve ever had at Elco, bar none. I’m really interested to see how the college thing plays out. He’s a scholarship player. But I’m biased.
“I’ve talked with Colton about making fans and leaving an impression on younger players,” continued Conners. “Going forward, I think we’re going to have success and this senior class has got to know it started with them. Every year it’s been fresh.”
Lawrence’s physical talent is undeniable. He is strong. He can shoot. He can drive. He can rebound. He can defend. He can jump out of the gym. He can handle ‘the rock’. He can lead. And he can make others around him better.
“I think the thing that has improved the most is my mindset,” said Lawrence. “I’ve become a lot more unselfish. I think the IQ has gone up a lot. I know we need to move the ball to win. My confidence has gone up, and I’ve worked on my weaknesses throughout my career. I know how to handle practice and preparation.
“That we’ve been able to squeeze in a winning season for Coach Conners has been great,” Lawrence added. “I’ve always been critical of myself. I wish I could’ve made basketball my main sport sooner. There were times when I didn’t put in hours and hours of practice.”
“He’s come so far since his freshman year,” said Conners. “He was our best player as a freshman, and he played in the post, but to see where he’s taken his game is unbelievable. He’s a very good decision-maker, and he’s unselfish. I know the amount of work he has put in, and that’s what impresses me so much. Now he can face up. He’s got moves. It’s been really neat to watch.
“I’ve watched Colton grow up,” added Conners. “I love the kid. Hes a great kid. He’s a hard worker, as is the entire senior group. They’re tight and all committed. That has had something to do with it. That’s something we’ve really made a priority. It’s something we’ve really focused on, and it’s served us well. This team feels like my family.”
Though he certainly has a bight one, Lawrence’s future in the sport right now is cloudy.
Lawrence has taken a ‘wait-and-see-when-the-season-is-over-approach’ to his college career. He has a Division One offer from Virginia Military Institute on the table, and has also visited Philadelphia University and Columbia.
In addition, he has grant-in-aid offers from five to ten upper Division Two programs to consider.
“I told all the coaches I’m going to make a decision at the end of the season,” said Lawrence. “After that I’m going to sit down, and it’s going to take a lot of conversation and prayer with my family. There’s still some programs that are really, really open. I could land an offer. We have a big game against Goretti coming up, and maybe some scouts will be there and I can spark some interest. I wanted to have as many options as I could.”
“It feels like there’s a little bit of something missing,” concluded Conners. “But we had way more positives than negatives. That’s what we’ll take away from this season. We broke five or six school records (including wins in a season). I think this team did leave behind a legacy, something we can build on.”
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