The Annville-Cleona boys’ basketball team is seeking a chance to grow and develop. What the Little Dutchmen need is to simply play, whether it be practices, games or both.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture through the cloud of the Coronavirus. Stunting growth is what COVID-19 does.
The COVID-19 crisis has hit Annville-Cleona especially hard.
Since the official start of the 2020-21 season on November 20th, the Little Dutchmen have conducted three formal practices, all of which came during the week of December 7th. That’s barely enough time for players and coaches to even introduce themselves to one other.
First the official start of practice was delayed, then the Little Dutchmen didn’t even start on time.
“We’re pretty far behind,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jason Coletti. “We only have two varsity players from last year, so we have a lot of new faces. We had a team meeting on that Thursday (December 10th), and we told the kids we’re going to start back up on January 4th. We told them ‘You’ve got to do things on your own.’ We told them to just stay active. At that point, we weren’t even close to being in shape, by any means. We told them, ‘Do something, whatever it may be.’
“I’m not expecting them to go out and do the drills we gave them everyday,” continued Coletti. “But I’m hoping they take it serious and do things on their own. It’s up to them to do. But this (the Coronavirus) has been hard for everyone.”
Currently, Annville-Cleona is scheduled to play its first game on January 13th. The Little Dutchmen are hoping to get the bulk of their preparation work in when organized practices are schedule to resume on January 4th.
“We’ll probably have a handful of practices before games start,” said Coletti, who’s in his third season as Annville-Cleona’s head man. “Our practices are going to be a lot of teaching, just trying to get them caught up. We’re all anxious for January 4th. We all want to play.
“Over the last two years, we started playing our best over the last five or six games,” Coletti continued. “We got off to slow starts, but we really started playing good basketball towards the end. We definitely improved as the season went on.”
Compounding Annville-Cleona’s plight is the fact that it has to replace seven departed seniors. The only returner who saw any significant playing time during last year’s 12-11 season was 5-7 senior guard Yadiel Cruz.
“Five of those senior saw the bulk of the playing time last year, so we have a lot to replace,” said Coletti. “But the juniors know what we expect and what we want. We need to have some early success. It is a concern. The fact that we didn’t have team camp or play in a summer league, and now losing practice time, doesn’t help. But a lot of schools are in the same boat.
“It’s a great group of kids,” added Coletti. “Our strengths are our athleticism and our shooting. We’re pretty quick, but not very tall, so defensively we want to get out and pressure man-to-man. We want to utilize our quickness. That’s the way we like to play. We’re going to get out and pressure people.”
The Little Dutchmen are still fine tuning things like rotations, combinations and roles. That should provide ample opportunities for senior guard Nick Malloy, sophomore forward Gavin Keller, junior forward Isaac Good, junior forward Carter Dodson, junior guard Chase Maguire and junior forward Simon Domencic to step up.
“We haven’t formally sat down and talked about goals yet,” said Coletti. “Our goal is to play as many games as we can. On the court, we’re always going to want to compete for a section (Five of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) title, and league and district playoff berths.
“Those are very realistic goals, playing in a smaller section,” Coletti added. “We’ve made districts the last two years and we want to keep that going. We’re going to compete and prepare to make the playoffs.”
Annville-Cleona is slated to open up its COVID-19-shortened, ten-contest campaign at home on January 13th against Lancaster Country Day. But the Little Dutchmen are hoping to add as many as five contests somewhere along the way.
“I love where we’re at right now, as far as the program goes,” said Coletti. “The numbers are good. In our eighth grade class, we had 13 or 14 kids sign up. I love the fact that we continue to make progress every year.
“Our goal as coaches is to increase the numbers at the elementary level,” continued Coletti. “Our numbers from the eighth grade to the 11th grade are great, and I love that.”