Taylor Funk (above, with the Jersey Shore Warriors in May) is headed to St. Joe's next fall. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2016-17 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
YORK — With an experienced rotation expected to return — including Saint Joseph’s commit Taylor Funk — no wonder Chris Sherwood is flashing plenty of grins.
Hey, what high school basketball coach wouldn’t be upbeat about an upcoming season when a sizable group comes back nearly intact? And Sherwood, a master tactician about to enter his ninth season at Manheim Central, is no different in that respect.
So, as many of his Baron players tested themselves against a trio of York County squads at last weekend’s Spartan Shoot-Out at York College’s Grumbacher Center, an optimistic Sherwood took a moment or two to take a look back at a unit that received plenty of on-the-job training and now, buoyed by those experiences, hopes to move forward.
“We’ve got everybody back,” said Sherwood, who will carry a nifty 126-74 record and a string of District 3 postseason appearances into the 2016-17 campaign. “Dare I say, it’s definitely the deepest team I’ve ever coached at Manheim Central.
“I haven’t coached a team that can score at the rate that this team can score,” added Sherwood, who guided Manheim Central to PIAA Class AAA playoff experiences in 2014 and again the following year, Funk’s freshman and sophomore seasons.
“We have our flaws, most are on the defensive end, but we’re really excited. We’ve had some success here over the last few years, obviously, with the few years we played in the district championship and the district semis two years ago. Last year, after all of that success, we started all underclassmen. It was a learning experience, obviously, having all those underclassmen last year and they kind of molded together.”
While Sherwood’s youthful Barons crafted a 14-9 overall record — Central finished fourth in a grueling Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 3 — last season came to a close in the 3-AAA round of 16 with a 75-54 loss to eventual champion Bishop McDevitt.
Skippered by Mike Gaffey — the same man who was Sherwood’s coaching guru — McDevitt’s remarkably athletic Crusaders eventually reached the state semis.
“Taylor was the only guy coming back from those two really good teams (Central was a combined 49-10), yet they got themselves into districts and we had some growing pains,” Sherwood recalled. “But, we knew we were preparing for this November.”
Well, it’s not quite November just yet for a Barons program that’s plugged into the PIAA’s new 5A classification. Nonetheless …
“Our main guys are back,” said Funk, who last season averaged 21.3 points per game and used his area-code range to bag 53 3-pointers. Explains why the 6-8 Funk landed a third-team nod (Class AAA) from the writers that selected the all-state team.
“We know we should have done better last year,” added the 18-year-old forward, who committed in May to Saint Joseph’s. “We lost a lot of games that we should have won.”
Well, as November approaches, the positive waves already are beginning to crescendo.
And with Funk already secure about his next destination — over, too, is a nasty mid-summer illness — clear minds are in place as preseason camp approaches.
“I feel like now I can just play,” said Funk, who has a good opportunity to become the Barons’ all-time leading scorer with another quality campaign. “Don’t have to worry about that. Glad I committed early, too, because I had mono for two months and I had to miss out on all of July and that’s the live period when coaches can come see you.
“[St. Joe’s was] on me hard and I appreciated that. When I went for the visit, they just pretty much talked to me about [head coach Phil Martelli] being a second dad.
“And that means a lot. That’s what you want in a coach, especially a college coach, because he is your dad for those four years.”
Sherwood is pleased his star senior forward is content. Healthy, too.
“He feels really good about his decision,” Sherwood said. “I’m really happy for him and his family; I think it’s going to be a great fit for him. … It’s just really neat. For a guy who likes the history of basketball myself, I can’t wait to go down there.”
First things first.
Among those returning alongside the combustible Funk are 6-0 senior lead guard Kody Kegarise (4.7 ppg), 5-11 senior guard Taylor Hosler (7.3 ppg), springy 6-2 senior forward Roman Wagner (6.6 ppg) and 5-11 senior guard Tyler Lyons (4.0 ppg).
Connor Hostetter, the 6-0 sophomore guard (4.4 ppg) who came on late last season, is among the others vying for minutes. Guards JayQuan Barreto (3.7 ppg) and Jake Novak (3.7 ppg) also will be in the mix, like Kegarise, once football season comes to an end.
So, expect practice sessions to be extremely competitive.
“Guys are going to get pushed for time for the minutes that they want,” Sherwood said with another of his trademark grins. “They all know they’re going to play and contribute, but for the minutes they really want every practice should be very competitive. Every situation that we’re in from here on out should be that much more competitive.”
Sherwood is referencing the reconfigured L-L, which has opted for a three-section alignment instead of the four-division look that had been in place.
So while traditional Section 3 rivals Lampeter-Strasburg, Cocalico and Donegal are accompanying Central to Section 2, bigger schools such as Solanco, Elizabethtown, Ephrata and Garden Spot are going nowhere.
Plus, Central will open the season at Cedar Crest — without all-stater Evan Horn — and former Section 3 playmate Elco and its long-range gunner Mason Bossert on consecutive nights. A showcase at Central also is on the docket.
“I’m excited for it,” Funk said of pending duels against 6-9 Lafayette commit Dylan Hastings of Solanco and 6-5 Ben Sandberg of L-S. “I’m always glad to play a new team, new players. Think it’ll be a good year. We’ve got athletes on this team.”
“We were right there with Cocalico, L-S and Elco, but I just think this new configuration for Section 2 is going to be great,” Sherwood admitted. “It’s going to be so competitive with guys like Hastings and Sandberg and Taylor Funk. It’s going to be exciting.
“I was a Mid-Penn guy growing up. I was a Palmyra guy, rode Mike Gaffey’s back for a while,” Sherwood added, reminiscing a bit. “But when I came to the L-L, in the back of my mind, it’s not the Mid-Penn. But our league is great, it’s really good, it’s just a great league to be a part of. I just think its growing non-stop.
“It’s been fun to root for these teams in the L-L. It absolutely has brought basketball fever to the L-L that the Mid-Penn always had. It’s just really neat.”
Neat, too, is how Central has pried its way into the L-L’s upper echelon.
And, if the Barons carry out what they hope to carry out, they’ll stay right there — with a veteran squad featuring a Saint Joseph’s recruit doing the needed legwork.
Avoiding injuries is one key. Another is getting after it each and every night.
If so, more of those neat things likely will follow before Funk’s career comes to a close.
“Feels like [yesterday] when I was so nervous to try out as a freshman, but here I go,” said Funk, who has scored 1,273 career points. “Senior year. One more shot.”
“Our goal at this point has to be to contend for a Section 2 championship, that has to be our No. 1 goal,” Sherwood admitted. “Anything after that, we have to wait for because you have to work at this to get to districts or leagues.”
Well, that work already has begun.