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.)
QUARRYVILLE — Make your way south on the winding, two-lane passages of U.S. 222, past the fields populated by Pennsylvania-grown grains or grazing livestock or perhaps a horse-drawn plow tugging an Amish farmer, and eventually you’ll get there.
And, in this case, there is Solanco High School.
Resting atop one of the rolling hills that serve as southern Lancaster County’s scenic backdrop, the impressive structure one suddenly discovers beyond yet another turn promptly belies the cozy, small-town feel one fully anticipates while motoring farther and farther away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Lancaster.
You’ll find dozens of youngsters on the many playing fields that augment Solanco’s sprawling campus or waiting near one of the buildings for a ride home or a quick trip to a nearby dairy for a jug of chocolate milk or an ice cream cone.
More youngsters can be found inside, noisily dribbling basketballs in one of the gymnasiums decked in black and gold that sit across a huge hallway from one another or shouting to a teammate or a classmate or maybe a favorite teacher.
Here is where you’ll often find Dylan Hastings, the Golden Mules’ talented 6-9, 195-pound senior basketball standout, working diligently on his still-evolving game with one or more of his teammates and/or second-year head coach Scott Long.
Long, lean and packing a condor-like wingspan that stretches nearly seven feet — Hastings says another growth spurt may come since his 6-6 father actually grew after graduation — Hastings possesses a build that’s impossible to miss.
Yet Hastings is hardly just a stretch forward or a big man who excels in the high post, as his quicks and mobility enable him to thrive on the perimeter — and even beyond the 3-point arc — and on the break in the transition game.
Need someone to help solve pressure? Hastings is your man.
Yep, he can handle the basketball, too.
“I can bring the ball up the floor,” Hastings said confidently yet matter-of-factly, when asked to provide a self-assessment of his basketball skill set. “I can shoot 3s. I can score down low. I can run and I can rebound.”
And it’s that assortment of skills that prompted long-time Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon to extend a scholarship offer that Hastings eventually accepted.
“Aug. 27 [is when I committed],” a grinning Hastings said recently.
“I knew that because the first day of school was the 29th.”
Two days later, on Aug. 31, Hastings celebrated his 18th birthday.
“It seemed like every school had its perks and this one just combined everything at once — and, on top, it had Coach O there,” added Hastings, who also was being pursued by Mount St. Mary’s, Assumption, East Stroudsburg and Philly’s University of the Sciences.
“The school’s beautiful. I like the older look of the school.”
While Hastings is impressed by the way O’Hanlon and his staff utilize their bigs — and he knows he must get bigger and stronger to survive the physical rigors that come while playing in the Patriot League and becoming more and more consistent with his jumper — Lafayette hasn’t put a lengthy list of musts in front of the Solanco senior.
“They just want me to get better,” said Hastings, who as a junior averaged 16.5 points per game for Long’s 11-11 Mules. “I wanted to be able to sign [during] the first signing period. That way my senior year, I could just play.
“Just play with no worries.”
And while Lafayette wants Hastings to get better — by the way, Hastings is Solanco’s first Division I recruit since 1994, when Johnny Miller (Clemson/Temple) and Lithuanian exchange student Sarunas Jasikevicius (Maryland) propelled the Mules to their last Lancaster-Lebanon League championship — he wants to finish with a flourish.
* Hastings hopes to lead Long’s Mules to the L-L’s Section 2 championship and perhaps much more. Hang another black-and-gold banner, if you will, since the last time Solanco captured one of the L-L’s section crowns was in 2010.
* Hastings (600-plus career points) also could become just the seventh player in Solanco history to collect 1,000 career points or more.
“I truly believe we can win the Section,” Hastings said of the L-L’s reconfigured look, which will have Solanco parked in the same eight-team loop alongside former Section 2 rivals Elizabethtown, Ephrata and Garden Spot. Former Section 3 residents Manheim Central, Donegal, Lampeter-Strasburg and Cocalico, meanwhile, have moved in.
“We can definitely compete for it, without a doubt.”
Long, the Maryland native who starred at nearby Lancaster Bible College before landing at Solanco, prefers not to broadcast his club’s season-long objectives. Nonetheless, he’s fully aware of what’s awaiting his Mules once league play convenes.
Solanco won six of its final nine last season — including victories over District 3-AAAA qualifiers McCaskey and Lebanon — so there’s some reason for optimism even though the Mules finished 25th in the 3-AAAA power rankings (only the top 20 qualified).
Regardless, the Mules are preparing for what awaits with vigilance.
“I don’t think there’s any gimme games in Section 2,” said Long, who coached the Solanco girls for five seasons before taking over the boys’ program prior to last year. “I think top to bottom it’s a really strong league.”
Although his first run with the Solanco boys featured narrow victories and close losses — six setbacks by eight points or fewer and a three-overtime thriller at Hempfield that featured four Hastings treys — he knows what he has in his multi-faceted big man.
“He cares about how Solanco does, so his senior year here is important to him and I respect that,” Long said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and he’s turned into our hardest worker. A year ago, he would tell me he wasn’t our hardest worker, but he was always our most talented.
“Right now, he’s turned into a kid that’s my hardest worker and my best player.”
Long also has some good players returning to the Solanco backcourt, where junior Aaron Constein (3.3 ppg) and senior Colin Kilgore (3.5 ppg) hope to handle many of the duties vacated when lead guard and three-year starter Desmond Kreider graduated while continuing to flash their respective strengths. Constein is one of those guys who can’t be left alone on the perimeter, while Kilgore is a defensive stopper.
Hastings will get help up front from 6-5 forward Robbie McHugh (5.5 ppg), whose athleticism expanded following a spring competing in the high jump. He’s also out for football for the first time — excelling at the wide receiver position.
Solanco lost seven seniors to graduation, but Long believes his Mules still have the talent to go nine players deep, maybe 10. Fully aware that defensive game plans will be focused on collaring Hastings, Long’s already preparing for that.
“One thing is we have guys who can shoot, and then the second thing is Dylan is a very good passer,” Long said. “I’m not too worried about double teams.
“Dylan’s a smart player. He knows he can get to the rim and he also understands if I’m being triple teamed, I have a teammate who can shoot the ball,” Long continued. “I’m sure teams will double him. I would.
“If I had a guy as big as him — and not every team has a 6-9 guy, so — I would be trying everything to figure out how to double him or trap him and make somebody else beat us. I’m sure that’s what we’ll see.”
In addition to seeing a grueling Section 2 slate — whether at home or on the road — Long has club entered in a testy tip-off tournament at Lancaster Catholic also featuring improved Manheim Twp. and YAIAA hammer Central York. The Mules also are headed for Gettysburg’s Holiday Tournament, another really competitive event.
Nonleague scraps with former Section 2 playmate Conestoga Valley, Elco and York Suburban are planned as well.
So, if Long’s Mules hope to contend for the Section 2 crown, reach the L-L’s postseason tournament or qualify for District 3’s 5A playoffs, a quick start is a must.
“We wanted our schedule to get better, but at the same time our message to our guys is we have to work hard,” Long admitted. “We worked hard all summer. We took like a three-week break and we have to work hard this fall because, for us, we need to hit the ground running come November and December.”