The Cedar Crest boys’ basketball program really has something really good going on. And the Falcons aim to keep it going on.
But establishing consistency and maintaining consistency are two totally different things. Still, what Cedar Crest has been able to accomplish over the past decade speaks to the model of consistency.
Over the last eight years, the Falcons have won three Lancaster-Lebanon League championships, three L-L Section One titles and qualified for the District Three playoffs eight straight times. While that makes the Falcons one of the most consistent scholastic athletic programs in all of Lebanon County, it also creates some expectations, and perhaps just a bit of pressure.
Cedar Crest’s challenge this year is to re-tool and reload again, amidst a Coronvirus pandemic that has everyone outside of their comfort zones.
“I think they’re up to it,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith, of an old challenge facing a new group. “Even though we graduated a lot of great seniors, we’re returning three kids who played last year, and we’re returning eight seniors. They have embraced the culture of our basketball program. They aren’t lacking in the knowledge of what it takes to be a Cedar Crest basketball player. We’ve created this culture that kids want to be a part of.”
Relatively speaking, Cedar Crest has managed the COVID-19 crisis fairly well. The Falcons began their work a week later than the first official first day of winter practice, but they were able to get 13 collective workouts in, before being paused for three weeks on December 11.
“Every minute we were able to have in practice was great,” said Smith, who’s in his 11th season of heading the program. “We had a team meeting on that Friday and talked about expectations. We’ve had virtual meetings to study film, and we’ve just been encouraging them (his players) to keep a basketball in their hands. The goal was to not lose everything they gained in those practices, so when we do resume in person we can hit the ground running. This (pause) may not be the only one we deal with. I think the teams that handle it the best are going to have the most success this season.
“I can’t be there with them, but the kids dealt with this all summer long,” Smith added. “Just because we were shut down doesn’t mean our basketball operations were shut down. This isn’t new to our kids. I feel like they did a great job of handling it in the spring. When you have a good program, a lot of it falls back to the players. We kind of put the accountability back on them. If they want to be a part of it, they’ll do what they’re supposed to do. You can’t fake it.”
The Falcons enjoyed another phenomenal season last year. They compiled a 23-6 overall record on their way to Section One and Lancaster-Lebanon League championships, but a majority of those key performers have graduated.
“There were so many great moments from last year,” said Smith. “We won a lot of tough, single-digit games early. We got off to a good start, and we were challenged early. We really grew up and it helped us later. Some of it was just finding ways to win.
“We’re going to be playing a different style this year,” added Smith. “We’re not going to be as big, so we’re going to go back to our roots, with a lot of pressure defense and playing with pace. They’re (his players) starting to embrace it. It’s a fun style of play. We can put five shooters on the floor at any given time.”
The Falcons’ leadership this season will come from three senior sources, namely guard Christopher Danz, wing Max Scipioni and the athletic Matt Smith. Not only will that trio be asked to make plays, but also to perform in capacities that will cause teammates to follow.
“I think our emphasis is going to change based on our personnel,” said Smith. “We’re implementing some new things. Without any off-season, the faster we come along the better we’re going to be. My concern is, ‘Can we get good early?’ No one has an advantage right now. But those who do are going to the ones with a little experience.”
Competition for starting roles and playing time should only make Cedar Crest better as the season progresses. Senior guard Kaden Cantrell, senior guard Conrad Wasson, junior guard Jake Wolfe, sophomore wing Nolan Groff, senior guard Mark Gates, junior guard Jay Adiles and senior guard I’zaa Reyes-Vega have all put in the time it takes to be successful.
“I truly believe with what everyone is bring back that we’re going to be able to put a team on the floor that can compete with anyone in Section One,” said Smith. “I’ll put my guys up against anyone. Not knowing what’s going to happen with districts, we want to take care of our business day-to-day and qualify for the Lancaster-Lebanon league playoffs.”
Currently, Cedar Crest’s 15-game schedule consists of two non-league contests and 13 league tilts, including its opener on Friday, January 8 at Manheim Township. Depending upon how things shake out, the Falcons could add as many as seven games to their regular-season slate.
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