Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
Wins haven’t come easy often for Division II Holy Family men’s basketball since senior Eric Esposito first stepped foot on campus in Northeast Philadelphia.
After the Tigers produced a respectable 14-13 record in the forward’s freshman year, the team went only 19-37 over the next two seasons — the second of which came after a year-long hiatus due to the canceled 2020-2021 campaign.
Eric Esposito (above) and the Holy Family men are 3-0 for the first time in seven years. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
“I’ve seen the sky fall many times in the past couple seasons,” Esposito said.
The Conwell-Egan graduate endured through the tough times and stuck with the program. Now, he’s seeing a bit of a shift at the start of this Holy Family season.
Taking on Staten Island in their home opener on Wednesday night, the Tigers came away with a convincing 73-52 victory in front of a nice crowd at the Campus Center Gymnasium. Esposito scored 13 points to help Holy Family get out to its first 3-0 start to a season since 2015.
“It’s awesome,” the senior said, “especially being here the past four years and being on the losing side of it a lot. I feel like a winning culture can really get gained quick. Once you get a couple things going, everyone knows, ‘We’re gonna win this game.’ That’s just the mentality we have right now.”
Showing signs of improvement early in the year, this Holy Family squad has a core of returning players that have helped bring the program to this point. Esposito, junior guard Jake McGonigle, senior guard Rick’Keem Mixson and sophomore big David Robinson Jr. were tabbed by the coaching staff as players from last year who fought hard and could help the Tigers take a step forward. Add in a couple of important newcomers as well, and the team has started to find success.
“Those guys will do whatever it takes to win,” fourth-year head coach Ryan Haigh said of his key returners. “And they’ve lost the last two seasons. I just think, with the pieces we added — we got guys to make some shots now down the stretch — I think that’s going to be the difference.”
Holy Family has eight new players in total, with a pair of guards proving to be the most crucial additions. Freshman Aamir Hurst, a major contributor for a Neumann-Goretti High School team that won the Philadelphia Catholic League and the PIAA Class 4A titles last year, has emerged as the Tigers’ sixth man. Junior Malik Archer, a 2017 Math, Civics & Sciences grad who has played for both Ranger College and the Community College of Beaver County, has stepped into a role as a shooter and scorer in the starting lineup.
“I think with the blend of experience in close games and bringing in guys that have been in winning programs — the Neumann-Gorettis and MCSes of the world — they know what it takes to win,” Haigh said. “We knew that the guys that were here were good enough that we just needed a piece or two. And I think we found them.”
Holy Family showed how that combination can work effectively against Staten Island. Robinson scored a game-high 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds while serving as the Tigers’ defensive anchor. Esposito hit two big 3-pointers in the first half to help Holy Family establish a lead. The new guys also pitched in as Archer scored 12 points on four 3s and Hurst added eight points off the bench — the whole thing coming together in a blowout win.
The vibes are at a high for Holy Family right now, but, of course, the team will have to continue executing as the season moves along. The Tigers will go on the road next to play Queens College (N.Y.) on Saturday before heading to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for two games in the El Clasico next week. They open up their Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference schedule on Nov. 30 away against Georgian Court.
There will surely be challenges down the road for Holy Family, but this group believes that it’s equipped to handle them and keep building upon this undefeated start.
“We just want to be a part of it,” Esposito said. “Part of a winning culture at this school.”
Freshman Searfoss sets tone for Tigers
Holy Family women’s head coach Bernadette Laukaitis never worried about having a freshman point guard run the show. When it came to newcomer Skyler Searfoss, she believed in the young ball-handler’s ability.
Freshman guard Skyler Searfoss (above) has jumped right into a starting role for the Tigers. (Photo: Ty Daubert/CoBL)
“Sky — coming in as a freshman — knowing her team and knowing where people are on the floor, I think that’s a big piece of her puzzle and ours as a whole,” Laukaitis said. “… Sky has some really good swag to her, and she understands how to do it.”
Searfoss put that on display in her first collegiate home game on Wednesday, scoring a team-high 17 points and controlling the pace in a 77-66 win over District of Columbia. She went 7-of-9 from the field as the Tigers ran out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter and never looked back.
Sophomore Ava Morrow added 15 points while senior Moe Moore had nine rebounds from the guard position along with four points.
Through three games for Holy Family (2-1), Searfoss is averaging 10.7 points while adjusting to the college game after a four-year high school career at Jim Thorpe in the Schuylkill League.
“It’s definitely been a learning process,” she said. “But my teammates are here with me through it and my coaches have been nothing but helpful through this whole process.”
Searfoss, though, has impressed the Tigers with her advanced feel for the game thus far and should only continue to improve with more experience. She’ll get her next opportunity on Saturday when Holy Family travels to Shippensburg.
“I’m a freshman,” Searfoss said, “but I don’t let that bother me. I try to play like a veteran out there, and let my game do the talking.”