Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
(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.)
After three straight Pioneer Athletic Conference championships (PAC), Methacton’s reign at the top was cut short last year. Now, with the school-best 28-win season two years in the rearview, Methacton needs the remaining players from that team to lead them back to the top of the PAC in 2021-2022.
Brett Byrne (above) is the last remaining starter from Methacton's 2020 PAC and District 1 championship team. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Both Cole Hargrove and Brett Byrne are the two remaining contributors from the 28-2 team that was on a path to lift a trophy and an oversized Hershey bar, but then the 2020 state tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.
Since then, Jeff Derstine — the man behind Methacton’s ascension as a program — stepped down as the head coach, and Pat Lockard is now at the helm for Methacton. Lockard worked on Derstine’s staff for nine years before taking over; in his first year as a head coach, the Warriors finished 5-3 as they were navigating unprecedented circumstances along with everyone else.
“During the pandemic, we really had no preseason or offseason, and with the coaching switch and the masks and not being able to work out, it was tough to get us kind of all on the same page,” Lockard said.
This year’s team has had time to gel over the summer. Still, the Warriors are now in a transition period. After graduating major 2019-2020 contributors Brett Eberly (Elizabethtown), Erik Timko (Jefferson) and Jeff Woodward (Colgate), last year was a huge adjustment. Now Lockard will have to rely on the remaining pieces from that team: Byrne and Hargrove, following the graduation of a six-man graduating class that included three starters in Ryan Baldwin, Steve Penjuke, and Mike Merola off a team that went 11-7 a year ago.
Byrne was a starter on the dominant 2019-2020 team and has seen his role grow during his time at Methacton.
“Back then, I was the ‘play defense and get rebounds and spot-up shooting’ guy,” Byrne said. “Now it's more ‘run the offense, make reads and also guard the other team's best player’… it definitely has evolved into something much bigger than it was.”
The Warriors play through Byrne, a 6-1 senior guard and three-year starter offensively. Bryne, who said he’s been hearing from D-III York College (Pa.), can hurt defenders from the perimeter with a nice jumper, which is why he’s been a starter for most of his varsity experience; this summer with East Coast Power, he worked on beating his defender off the dribble.
“The crossover and in and out, those are the two things I've been practicing a lot,” Byrne said. “And once I defeat the guy or get past him, keeping them on my hip and not letting him come back in.”
Bryne is also skillful at navigating the pick-and-roll, and he’s developed a good bit of chemistry with his classmate, Hargrove.
Senior forward Cole Hargrove (above) has offers from Drexel and Saint Peter's. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Hargrove currently holds offers from Drexel and St. Peters and has interest from other Division I programs. The 6-8 forward serves as the defensive focal point for Methacton. His expansive reach and ability as a help defender allow him to be a high-quality shot-blocker.
“Defensively, Cole’s our anchor,” Lockard said. “You can see the way he affects shots even when he’s not blocking shots at the rim.”
Hargrove’s prowess as a defender is what has got him attention thus far. Over the summer, Hargrove played with K-Low Elite; in his first experience on the Adidas national circuit, he used the time to develop on the other end of the floor, specifically in the pick-and-roll and as a perimeter shooter. Still, more importantly to Hargrove, his mindset changed.
“I think I had a lot of growth as a person and as a basketball player. And I kind of want to bring that growth to the team,” Hargrove said. “I learned to be assertive and always have an attack mindset on the court and not be passive.”
Lockard expects a lot out of both players considering their experience. But he’s more focused on intangible attributes that come with being a senior leader, specifically how well they communicate with their teammates.
“When they were the sophomores on the team, they had four seniors … this year, they're now the seniors of the team, and they need to be able to have leadership responsibilities,” Lockard said. “Point and talk where guys need to be, and just communicate the reads where they need them to curl, cut or slip or whatever it may be on offense. Communication is going to give us the best possibility to get a great shot.”
This summer, Lockard has been finding contributors that will complement his returning starters to get those great shots.
Pat Lockard (above) is entering his senior year as the Warriors' head coach. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“We have a lot of guys who are coming up from the JV program that we're trying to see who's going to be part of a rotation,” Lockard said. “[Summer basketball] is giving them some perspective so they can see what’s the expectation for you to be a rotational player.”
So far, one player who looks poised to be the third member of the Warriors’ triumvirate is junior Matt Christian. While Hargrove patrols the paint and Byrne initiates the offense, Christian will be flying around the perimeter. Last year was Christian’s first time seeing significant varsity minutes.
Christian has good off-ball movement and has a quick release that makes him an effective off-balance and spot-up shooter. Christian will be essential to Methacton’s offense as he’ll give both Hargrove and Byrne room to operate.
“He's got a really good IQ for the game,” Lockard said. “He knows what cut to have or where to box out, or where to open himself up to get an open shot for us, and he knows that we want him to shoot the basketball.”
Also returning from rotation last year is 6-3 senior forward Colin Meyer, but after that it’s going to have to be some new faces. Juniors Cam Chilson and Jason Lagana are two guards who’ve earned the bump up to the varsity squad, while a group that includes junior forward Evan Spang, sophomore forward Preston Hull, sophomore guard Anthony Daddazio and sophomore forward Alex Hermann will battle for the remainder of the minutes.
Considering that the PAC has two new head coaches joining the division at Owen J. Roberts and Spring-Ford, and Norristown didn’t have a season last year, the conference is tough to project.
But the Warriors have their sights set on starting a new streak as division champions and playing longer during the district tournament; a quarterfinals appearance would qualify them for states.
“I want to win the PAC again,” Hargrove said. “Last year, we got bounced out of districts in the second round, and that was kind of a disappointment for me, and I kind of want to exceed that and get back into the quarterfinals of districts.”