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Prepping for Preps '23-24: Pioneer Athletic Conference (Boys)

12/06/2023, 3:00pm EST
By Owen McCue

By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
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(Ed. Note: This story is part of 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 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)

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The Pioneer Athletic Conference boys side has had some heavy hitters come through the league in recent years with the six-team Liberty Division putting four to five teams into the District 1 tournament annually.

Last season’s champion Spring-Ford, which won the league for the first time in seven years, has its stars back but there are definitely squads in both the large (Liberty) and small (Frontier) divisions who believe they have a shot at dethroning the Rams this season. 

Here is a quick look ahead at the league:

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Liberty Division


Spring-Ford junior Jacob Nguyen and the Rams will try to defend their PAC title. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Favorites

Spring-Ford brings back 6-4 shooting guard Jacob Nguyen (16.2 ppg, 76 threes)  and 6-1 E.J. Campbell (13.2 ppg), who was terrific during the Rams’ runs to the District 1-6A title game and PIAA semifinals. There aren’t many returning top twos better than that amongst the public schools in the area and bouncy junior 6-5 wing Tommy Kelly (7.5 ppg) returns to give the Rams their top three scorers back. Spring-Ford had a strong and experienced senior class that did a lot of the little things, however, Sophomore 6-5 forward Oben Mokonchu and sophomore 5-8 guard Lymir Green are two exciting youngsters the Rams hope can fill those voids in different ways. Junior 6-4 forward Matt Zollers, the start QB of the football could add a new element of athleticism as well along with classmates Jordan Marsilio and Luke Pufko. The Rams won 20 straight games in the regular season a year ago with the only PAC loss coming to Perkiomen Valley in their final regular season game. Even if they pick up a few more blemishes along the way this season its hard not to see them entering the postseason as the favorites to repeat.

Contenders

Perkiomen Valley was on opposite ends of two last-second shots during last season’s PAC postseason, taking down Methacton on a last second shot before falling to Upper Merion on a putback buzzer beater in OT2 of the semifinals. PAC leading scorer Julian Sadler (20.5 ppg), a 6-2 senior guard and three-year starter is back to lead the way along with 6-5 wing Kyle Shawaluk (8.7 ppg), who had a really good summer after a breakout junior campaign.  Junior 6-3 guard/wing Jakob Harken adds another lethal threat to that duo with Mason Thear (Devon Prep) gone. Senior 6-4 forward Josh Tagert, senior guards Sean Wagoner and Ryan Murphy and junior guard Anthony Rodriguez likely round out an older rotation. The Vikings, who gave Spring-Ford its only PAC loss last season, went just 4-6 in the division in 2022-23 ,and they will have to a better job closing out games to reach their goals this season.

Methacton had four league titles in five seasons before a last-second shot by PV knocked the Warriors out in the first round last season. The Warriors also came up just shy of a PIAA berth. Senior 6-3 wing/forward Alex Hermann (13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is a really good small college prospect and could be in store for even bigger things after a breakout junior campaign. Junior 5-10 guard Sal Iemmello (8.6 ppg) will be leaned on even more. Senior 5-10 guard Anthony Daddazio adds another veteran presence, and the Warriors have an exciting sophomore class in Christian Matos, Mason Conrad and Wes Robinson. If one or two of them can emerge alongside Hermann and Iemmello the Warriors will certainly be in the mix.

Dark Horse

Norristown has a new head man in Chris Podsobinski, who spent the last season as an assistant at Malvern Prep. The Eagles still have one holdover from its 2022 District 1-6A runner-up squad in senior 6-3 guard Myon Kirlew (12.3 ppg) and their top scorer from last season in backcourt mate Jayden Byrd (12.3 ppg), a speedy 6-1 guard who can pop off in a hurry. Classmates Miles Daniels (5-10), Kevin Bond (6-2) and Clint John (5-10) are some of the others who could step into big roles.  Senior football players Rashon Giddens (6-1) and Quad Drummond (6-2) add some physicality and toughness in their first year of varsity hoops. Norristown has only missed the PAC postseason one time (2019-20) since joining the league.

Other Names to Know

Owen J. Roberts third-year coach Ben Condello believes he has a squad capable of reaching the postseason for just the second time in 15 years. Senior 5-10 point guard Luke Fryer, a four-year varsity starter who was third in the league in scoring a season ago at 15.4 ppg, is a major reason why. He has torched PAC defenses since averaging double figures as a freshman. Senior 6-2 forward Jack Cashman and junior 6-4 wing Elijah Cline, another potential college prospect, are the other key holdovers. Sophomore guard Danny Walker and junior Ryan Holmburg are two others two keep an eye on for a group trying to climb out of the division basement and into the playoff picture.

Boyertown graduated its top five scorers from last season’s district playoff team, making way for some exciting, albeit unproven talent. Junior 6-5 wing Trey Kearn is off to a hot start and junior 6-7 wing Jack Greaves is another versatile threat. Add in senior point guard Braedyn Johnson and senior forward Brent Rath and it’s easy to see the Bears still being a hard out this season despite a complete overhaul.

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Frontier Division


Phoenixville senior forward Max Lebisky and the Phantoms look like the early favorites in the Frontier. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Favorites

A rarity under longtime coach Eric Burnett, Phoenixville missed out on both the PAC and District 1 postseason a year ago. It was a group with talent, but with almost everyone getting their first varsity run. Senior 6-5 point forward Max Lebisky (9.5 ppg) is one of five returning starters for the Phantoms. The talented passer has started to take over games a little more this offseason, and junior 6-5 guard/wing Deacon Baratta (11.2 ppg) is another college-level talent growing into a go-to guy. Sophomore guard Dawson Brown (8.9 ppg) is an exciting young player who started as a freshman. Senior guard Christian Cervino (8.8 ppg) thrived as the sixth man last season and senior forward Aidan McClintock (6-7) and Bryce Absher (6-4) add more size in the front court alongside Lebisky. The Phantoms have a good mix of talent and size that should keep them near the top of the division standings all season along and compete with some of the bigger school programs in the league.

Contenders

Pottstown third-year coach Ken Ivory Jr. helped the Trojans break a lengthy PAC postseason absence last season and took eventual league champion Spring-Ford to double overtime in the league semifinals. Pottstown lost a big piece in sharpshooter Ty Elliot-Moore but all-league senior guards Sadeeq (15.7 ppg) and Abdul Jackson (13.7 ppg) are back and bring their younger brother Jahmir Jackson to the varsity level with them this season. Senior guard Jurell Young is another starter back and pesty defender DiMark Lyons was a key contributor off the bench last season. Senior 6-2 forward Dillon Mayes, is a really good athlete who will have to play big, and his backfield mate on the football field Nazir Booker adds some toughness and athleticism. Sophomore forward Elias Butler brings some more depth up front.

Pope John Paul II had its long reign atop the Frontier division halted last season. The Golden Panthers tied with Upper Merion and Pottstown at 7-3 but lost the tiebreaker and missed out on the PAC postseason. Senior guards Dom Demito (12.9 ppg) and Chase Mondillo (6.7 ppg) look to lead the way for first-year coach Earl Wise. Those two and 6-6 senior forward Caleb Zvertnik and 6-2 junior wing Bradey Bass (6.1 ppg) give PJP four starters back. There’s some depth behind them, including junior football star Braden Reed, and junior wing Denny Owens

Dark Horse

Pottsgrove has taken some lumps for a few seasons now in anticipation for this year. The Falcons return their top five scorers, including seniors Gabe Rinda (13.5 ppg),a  6-2 sharpshooter, Nadhir Ward (10.9 ppg), a 6-foot wing/forward and  Sophomore 6-4 forward Deymein Doctor (9.6 ppg) made an impact as a freshman, and junior guard Blessing Jones (6.8 ppg) has multiple seasons of varsity hoops under his belt and Julius Marshall (7.2 ppg) played a big role last season. Whether the Falcons have the firepower as the top two teams remains to be season but they're definitely one of the District 1-5A schools people may not know about who could surprise this season. 

Other Names to Know

Upper Merion won the division last season and took down Perk Valley in double overtime. The Vikings will have to replace their top three scorers but they seem to have new faces to step up to remain competitive year after year. Senior 6-foot guards Colin Hirshorn (7.9 ppg) and Nicholai Smiley (7.8 ppg) are the top returners with Smiley already getting a 20-point outing under his belt. Senior 6-3 forward Elijah Davis, an impact player on the football team, adds some size and strength, while senior 6-0 guard Allen Cole is another returner, a capable ball handler and shooter who hit some huge shots in that Perk Valley game last winter.

Upper Perk played Phoenixville and Upper Merion tight late last season before picking up its lone league win against Pottsgrove late in the year. Seniors Owen Williams (6.6 ppg), Braden Rieg, Aidan Keyser, and Evan Bosler have all been around but will need to step into bigger roles to try and make UP more competitive this season.


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