Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
(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.)
Maasai Harris (above) is the lone senior in the O'Hara rotation. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
With many players returning from last season’s team, Cardinal O’Hara was already due for some improvement with the experience it received in 2020-2021. Add a key transfer into the mix, and the Lions could be in store to take a leap in their development in 2021-2022.
“We were just young last year,” O’Hara head coach Ryan Nemetz said. “Last year, we had five freshmen in the rotation. This year, they’re sophomores and juniors. We were really young, and we’re still young going into this year.”
While the Lions finished 3-10 (2-10 Philadelphia Catholic League) last season, plenty of players expected to contribute this year saw valuable time on the court. Guards Josh Coulanges, Hunter Johnson, Maasai Harris and wing Amir Speights all started at least five games last season and are back once again with their sights set on continuing to build.
“We’re still young,” Nemetz said. “We have sophomores and juniors and only one senior. Continuing to develop those guys in high-level action is one of our goals. Just being ready for those bigger moments to compete for a championship.”
A newcomer will be joining O’Hara’s core in junior wing guard Izaiah Pasha, who transferred in from Central Dauphin, near Harrisburg. At 6-foot-5, Pasha is a lengthy scorer with shooting ability and an advanced feel for the game.
Beginning play in the more physical PCL may take an adjustment period for him, but he said he’s embracing the challenge of making his way to O’Hara.
“I’m excited for the PCL,” said Pasha, who picked up a Division I offer from Siena this summer. “Competing in games with big crowds, having fun and just winning. Harrisburg is very small, so it’s nothing like the Catholic League.”
On the court, Pasha (above, with ball) will take on a lot of the scoring responsibilities for the Lions. Coulanges, a junior, led the team in scoring last year with 10.9 ppg in 19.1 minutes. Harris (8.8 ppg), the lone senior, will split time as the lead guard, while Johnson (8.9 ppg), a sophomore, will serve in a combo guard role. Speights (8.8 ppg), another sophomore with good size at 6-4, will be another scoring option as a wing. Up front, his classmate 6-6 stretch-forward Pearse McGuinn (2.8 ppg) will also see significant minutes.
Those players should combine for a balanced offense with a number of weapons that can do damage.
“Our speed, our quickness and, on most nights, our shooting ability,” Nemetz listed as strengths of his team. “But we’re able to stretch teams out and kind of play five-out. Our speed, our quickness, our shooting ability, and I think we’re a tough group.”
Sophomore guards Zuri Harris and Kory Jones, freshman guard Brendan Horan and junior wing Christian Cervellero will round out the rotation as depth pieces.
Amir Speights (above) is one of several promising sophomores on the O'Hara roster. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Nemetz said his team already seems more “comfortable” heading into this season. Playing as an extremely young group in the PCL like O’Hara did last year can be a bit of a daunting task. Now, the Lions appear more ready for what’s in front of them.
“Last year, it was kind of getting thrown into the fire,” Nemetz said of his players. “Whereas this year, they know different situations and how to handle them better. It’s huge they got the experience last year going into this year.”
As for O’Hara’s goals for this season, the team wants to be more of a team to deal with in the Catholic League than it was in 2020-2021. Nemetz ideally wants to compete for a top-four spot in the Catholic League, which would secure a home game in the first round of the league playoffs.
In the Catholic League, that’s quite a lofty aspiration: the PCL is talented and deep; finishing at that level in a league with teams such as the top-heavy Roman Catholic, reigning champion Archbishop Wood and other schools like La Salle, West Catholic or Neumann-Goretti would be quite a feat for O’Hara after last year’s campaign.
The Lions will open their season on Friday at Garnet Valley, playing tough non-con games against the likes of Archbishop John Carroll (D.C.), Malvern Prep, Trenton Catholic, Chester and others before starting their PCL schedule against La Salle on Jan. 3. The O’Hara players are excited to get the year underway, hoping to prove that the team has made substantial improvements.
“I’m just ready,” Coulanges said. “Everybody’s ready. We’re just trying to go out there and go hard.”