Ryan Coyle (@RyanCoyle35)
(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. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)
Upper Moreland entered last year's PIAA District One 5A playoffs as the No. 1 seed and had their eyes set on their first district championship since 2012-2013.
Then, Unionville came into the Golden Bears’ gym as the No. 8 seed in the quarterfinals round, bouncing Dan Heiland’s squad from the playoffs with a 55-43 loss. The loss marked the tenth straight year Upper Moreland has been bounced in the first round of the District 1 playoffs, with their last win coming in that 2012-2013 district championship game over Pope John Paul II.
“It was tough for a lot of those seniors who had been through it, with a lot of them playing since they were sophomores,” said Heiland, going into his second year as head coach. “I think a lot of the underclassmen, our key guys that are coming back, realized after that playoff game that those guys wouldn’t be coming back next year: Jahaire Johnson, Jourdan Gregg, Ryan Scherneke, Jeremey Harmer, the guys who were our leaders.”
The Golden Bears finished 13-4 last season, finishing second in the SOL Freedom Division behind Cheltenham and in front of William Tennent, New Hope-Solebury, Springfield (Montco.), and Lower Moreland. Upper Moreland is looking to build off of that season, after their early playoff exit, with a focus on staying power this time around.
“After losing in the playoffs last year, being the No. 1 seed, it was a big heartbreak,” senior guard Byron Hopkins said. “Going into my senior year, me and the rest of the guys have been working extra hard to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.”
The biggest loss from last year’s squad is certainly Johnson, a first team all-league Freedom Division selection a year ago. A 6-foot-2 wing who is currently playing football at Delaware Valley University. Johnson was an athletic wing who led the team in scoring last season and was the vocal leader on and off the court.
Other graduates from last year's squad include Gregg, a second team all-league Freedom Division guard, and the 6-5, 280 pound Schernecke, who provided the team with strong interior defense and a real presence on the glass.
“Leadership is something I am definitely going to be looking for this year and we need someone to step up and take charge of that role,” Heiland said. “We need someone that the team can look to when things are getting tough, and pull us together through those times.”
Senior forward Matt Tiernan (above) will lead Upper Moreland in search of its first district playoff win in a decade. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Towards the end of last season, Heiland noted that he saw two guys particularly step up down the stretch and start to gradually lead their teammates: Hopkins and senior forward Matt Tiernan. Heiland expects the duo to be the core for Upper Moreland this upcoming season and a lot of the offensive sets will run through them.
Hopkins, a 6-0 guard with a strong ability to get the rim, received all-league honorable mention honors last season and will be part of the varsity program for the fourth consecutive year is a cat-quick guard, as well as a tough-nosed defender.
Currently, Hopkins is the quarterback for the Willow Grove based school’s football team, leading the Golden Bears to a 7-1 record thus far. With his experience on the hardwood and the gridiron, Heiland is counting on Hopkins to emerge as one of the key leaders on the team and use his experience with tough moments to rally the troops when needed.
On a team that is going to be limited in size, Hopkins’ rebounding ability is going to be huge if Upper Moreland is to have success.
“If our guards are able to execute on the glass and grab those long rebounds, helping out Matt and our other guys inside, it will be a huge help to our team on that side of the floor,” Heiland said. “Byron is a tremendous rebounder as a point guard.”
The go-to-guy this season for Upper Moreland, though, will be Tiernan, a 6-5 forward. Tiernan and his twin brother Jake looked like they would be one of the top frontcourt duos in the Suburban One this upcoming season, but Jake recently suffered a torn ACL that will hold him out for the season. That is going to put a little more on Matt’s plate, but the second team all-league pick from last year appears to be up to the task after a strong offseason.
Tiernan, who played AAU for Pro Skills Basketball this summer and garnered interest from Division III programs, is a mismatch forward who put up frequent double-doubles for the Golden Bears last season. With a growing perimeter game, the athletic senior is becoming a real problem for opposing big men.
“For his size, he is very quick and is a mismatch on the offensive end of the floor,” Heiland said. “His footwork and his quickness makes it hard for guys who are 6-6 or 6-7 to stay in front of him...Being able to have his quickness and his dribbling ability, to pull bigs out and make them guard on the perimeter is big for our offense.”
Outside of Hopkins and Tiernan, Heiland is looking for two other seniors to step up and be contributors. Guards Bo Meakin and Rashim Lancit, who have been members of the program for four years but do not have much varsity experience, will be counted on to emerge as key role players.
“If guys like Bo and Rashim, who haven’t played much for us, are able to step up and hit outside shots,” Heiland said, “it’s going to benefit our offense a lot and clear up a lot of space for Matt in the mid-range and in the post.”
Other players that figure to be in the rotation for Heiland’s squad include senior forward Stefano Garofalo, who is going to need to help out Tiernan on the boards to find minutes on the floor. Expected to fight for minutes as well are senior guard Owen Stanton, junior forward Jon Clark, and sophomore guard Jimmy Perce. All have been members of the program, but lack experience at the varsity level.
With Hopkins and Tiernan being key contributors for the football team and looking like they could make a playoff run, it could take a few weeks for them to get settled back on the court after a long season, but Upper Moreland’s goal is to avenge the early playoff loss from last season and make a run this upcoming season.
“The big message that I want to get across to the team this year is that the past few seasons we have had some great success in the regular season,” Hopkins said. “That is great and we are proud of that, but let’s be the team this year that goes above the standard regular season success and makes a run in the playoffs.
“I want to lead my team to a district championship. I know that hasn’t been done much around here, but I want to be able to say I was a part of a team that did it.”
Though the Golden Bears aren’t viewed as a traditional basketball power in the Southeastern Pa. area, Heiland acknowledges the program has garnered the respect and attention of the schools around them. Going forward, he wants to make sure that doesn’t change.
Making that postseason run would certainly be one way to do it.
“We were one game out of winning the conference last year,” Heiland said. “It is a goal here every year to win the conference and then make districts and make a run there. Going into this year we are viewed as one of the top teams in the conference, and I want to make sure that we stay there as long as possible.”