Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in 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 2021-22 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed can be found here.)
A few years ago, Downingtown West coach Stuart Ross looked over his team and had no trouble throwing them into the deep. They were talented, and skilled, though lacked one area that Ross knew would mature through time—and that’s experience.
Two years ago, the Whippets finished 10-12 overall and finished fourth in the grueling Ches-Mont League National with a fourth-place, 6-6 finish. Last year in the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season, Ross saw his young team move a step further with an 11-4 overall finish and a 10-3 Ches-Mont National record.
Jake Warren, whose brother Josh played at Cornell, is a rising junior to watch. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
This year, Ross expects another major step to be taken—and he should, with pillars like 6-foot-10 junior forward Jake Warren and 5-10 junior point guard Dylan Blair, son of West Chester University coach Damien Blair, returning. The Whippets made the PIAA District 1 Class 6A playoffs, before they were knocked out in the second round by traditional powerhouse Lower Merion.
Dylan Blair and Warren are going to get some help this season by 6-4 freshman wing Donovan Fromhartz, 6-2 senior shooting guard Cooper Hardin, 6-foot junior two-guard Joey Suarez, 6-4 junior forward Dean Polluch and 6-2 senior guard Matt Zincone. Both Polluch and Zincone have seen varsity minutes the last three years.
“We have a lot of guys who are very comfortable within the system and we have a lot of young guys who are ready to contribute this year,” Ross said. “Right now, West Chester East is probably the team to beat again (in the Ches-Mont National), since they won it the last two years, and we’re going to have to go through them.
“But I really think the league is up in the air this year. Coatesville and Bishop Shanahan will be good, and Henderson has a chance to be good with some guys. And obviously us, I think we have a really good chance to be one of the better teams in the league.”
Ross likes his team’s commitment to improve and its chemistry.
“I like the fact that everybody is hungry to achieve the same mission,” Ross said. “It’s nice to have that group. They’re connected to each other, and I think that’s what makes this team special.”
At the hub of Ross’ optimism is Warren, the younger brother of former Cornell forward Josh Warren who is coming off a great summer. He’s already received an offer from Saint Joseph’s and is young for his classification (he was a 15-year-old sophomore).
He’s gained some weight and added range to his game, able to hit 3-point shots, and can finish above the rim. Jake Warren will anchor the Whippets’ defense. He’s a relentless defender, who can score on all three levels.
Suarez is also a presence who can stretch the floor, and Polluch is what Ross terms as a “glue guy,” who brings everyone together.
Junior guard Dylan Blair (above) is the son of WCU head coach Damien Blair. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
What makes the Whippets go will be Dylan Blair. He’s a three-year starter who continues to improve, and more importantly, according to Ross, continues to drive myself to get better. He has 3-point range and is a voracious defender, no doubt a trait from being a “coach’s son.”
Blair even speaks like a coach.
Whereas Ross seems to be foaming with enthusiasm about the Whippets’ coming season, Blair is more guarded.
“We have a lot of potential, but right now, we’re still trying to feel each other out,” Dylan said. “Once we start making shots and communicating better on defense, we could be special. I’m looking forward to this season. Last year, because we didn’t play a full schedule, we didn’t really learn much. But we did find out we could win together, and we can do it by sharing the ball and playing good defense.
“Right now, I definitely think we’re more a complete team on the offense side. The defensive side definitely needs some work. If we can play some defense, we’re going to be good and so different and versatile. Jake can stretch the floor and we have a bunch of shooters. I believe we can score with anybody.”
Then a sly smile creased Blair’s face. The Whippets may unleash a secret weapon that they’re aware of, though the rest of the Ches-Mont hasn’t found out about—yet.
“Watch for Fromhartz,” Dylan Blair said. “He’s just 14 and he’s already 6-4 and can run the floor. He moves well and he shoots well. And he’s going to grow. He’s going to be good—that’s all I have to say.”
Warren likes his team’s chances of winning the Ches-Mont. He’s seen this team mature from last year and over into the summer.
“We work well together and I think that’s the reason why we’re going to win games this year,” Warren said. “We’re definitely better than we were this time last year. We need to focus on the small stuff and do things like taking charges, and not take ticky-tack fouls.
“I think Joey Suarez had a great summer. He’s good at moving the ball and can find the open shooter. His improvement will help us, but watch for Fromhartz. He can put the ball on the floor, and I would say he has a good chance to start for us.
“I like a lot of things about our team. I think we can be really good. I think we have a good chance to go deep in the districts. We have a lot of guys who mesh well together and are able to do a lot of stuff.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.