Justin Jaworski (above) led Perk Valley to its most successful season ever last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Perkiomen Valley boys basketball lived out a dream season last year.
Driven by star guard Justin Jaworski and an all-in, unselfish team mentality, the Vikings captured the Pioneer Athletic Conference title over Spring-Ford and then qualified for the state playoffs by beating Garnet Valley in the second round of the district tournament.
It was in the first round of the PIAA tournament that Perk Valley’s season truly became special, thanks to a win over two-time defending state champion Roman Catholic. Though the ride ended one round later, at the hands of eventual state champ Reading, that was enough to cement Jaworski and classmates Hogan Millheim and Sean Owens into the PV history books.
Now, Mike Poysden and the Vikings have to get back to dealing with reality. Not that it’s a bad thing to have to have to follow up on success. But it’s something of a fresh start for a program that’s been centered around one player for the last two-plus seasons.
“We’re all completely in new roles this year, which is exciting,” Poysden, the Vikings’ sixth-year head coach told CoBL by phone last week. “(The players have) seen what it takes, they know what it takes. They’ve tasted success once removed or twice removed, and they have this hunger to prove themselves.”
Gone are those three seniors who all played crucial roles in Perk Valley’s 23-win season, which also set the program benchmark for victory. And while all three were important, there’s no denying that it was Jaworski who was the heart and soul of the program.
A 6-1 guard, Jaworski leaves as the school second-leading scorer with over 1,500 points; he was also the best player on Perk Valley’s football team, a star wideout who became the PAC’s all-time leading receiver by the time his gridiron career was over. He’s now at Lafayette, where he’s already the Leopards’ starting point guard and second-leading scorer at 14.0 ppg.
And on a team that emphasized offensive patience and movement both of the ball and of players, Jaworski was the release valve, the one who could turn a frustrating possession into points.
“Last year, if we were struggling to score and we needed a bucket, we just looked to Justin like ‘alright, take a shot,’” senior guard Andrew Light said, “and most of the time, it went in.”
Light, a 5-11 guard, and 6-3 junior wing Tyler Stretchay are the team’s two returning starters from a year ago.
Junior wing Tyler Stretchay (above) will have to take a big step up in the scoring column for the Vikings. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Stretchay, an athletic wing who will play baseball in college, really came on strong during the team’s playoff push a year ago. He had eight crucial points in the win over Roman, including two clutch foul shots in the game’s closing minutes.
Both he and Light will have to make the leap from complimentary scorers to go-to shot-takers, and that’s not an easy one to make. Especially in the footsteps of a Division I recruit.
“I think they’re realizing that last year, as the third, as the fourth, as the fifth option, they didn’t need as many tricks and skills in their toolbox to perform that job,” Poysden said. “Now we’re working on how to set screens first, if we need to play, you can’t just go out there and float on the perimeter and wait for the ball to come to you like you could last year. You’ve got to screen your teammates and cut your way into space and opportunities.”
Up front, Perk Valley relied last season on Millheim, a burly 6-4 forward who knew how to score inside but could also face-up in the midrange. Millheim’s former backup, senior Joe Gorla, will miss this season due to a fractured vertebra he suffered last season.
So inside, the Vikings will rely on Stretchay and a pair of 6-5 juniors, identical twins Ian Streeper and Bryce Streeper. Senior wing Dante Graves, the team’s seventh man a year ago, is an athletic 6-3 guard who also will provide some help on the glass.
Senior guards Carson Parke and Kevin Barnabe will also be key parts of a rotation that Poysden expects to go nine or 10 deep, though he admitted he’s had similar expectations of depth in the past and has gone with a shortened rotation when the lights come on.
This year, he insists, will be different.
“We’re looking around and guys like Dante Graves and Ian and Bryce Streeper and [junior guard] A.J. Hanson are now suddenly like, ‘big stage and big lights,’” Poysden said. “They’ve embraced the grind it takes and they have the IQ to learn and think and do things well before we worry about doing them fast, and it’s exciting, and it’s a process.
“It takes time to get them comfortable and confident and playing the right way. Building that trust that they saw last year in screening and passing and [knowing] the ball will come back around. That stuff takes time. It’s fun and it’s exciting, but everyone’s sort of figuring out, developing their own identity and also developing their own roles.”
Though Perk Valley isn’t lacking for experience or talent, there’s no doubt that the graduations of Jaworski & Co. leave plenty of question marks from outside observers. Unlike last season, when Perk Valley was seen as one of the teams to beat in the PAC all season long, this group has some proving to do.
They’ll start off with opportunities to do so at Daniel Boone and then Kennett, with more non-conference games against North Penn, Academy Park and Wissahickon. The Vikings will get their first crack at rival Spring-Ford at home in December, and return the favor in the heart of league play in late January.
“It’s a long season, so we can’t look at anything short term and get excited or get too down about where we are, we need to be playing our best basketball end of January, beginning of February,” Poysden said. “They’re waiting to rise to that challenge, and that’s really cool. There’s a humility, there’s a humbleness and there’s a hunger and they can’t wait to prove it themselves.”