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Prepping for Preps '23-24: Conestoga (Boys)

12/06/2023, 6:45pm EST
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
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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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This time last year, no one knew what to expect from the Conestoga boys’ basketball team. Most of all the Pioneers. Sean Forcine was hired late in the summer to take over as the Pioneers’ new coach, replacing the highly respected Mike Troy, who stepped down after 16 years. It left everyone in the awkward spot of learning about each other on the brink of a new season. Forcine had limited time to find out what player combinations worked, while installing a different style of play and smoothing out the wrinkles of a new offense and defense. His players had to absorb on the go what Forcine’s vision was.

It translated into an un-Conestoga like 11-12 overall ending, a 6-10 record and eighth-place finish in the Central League, the No. 24 seed—and last berth—in the PIAA District 1 Class 6A playoffs and an early 48-38 first-round ouster to No. 9 seed Methacton.

This season has seen a seismic culture change. Forcine had this summer to know his players. His players got a chance to know his system and what he expects. That could translate into a Central League championship, since the league may be wide open with defending league champion Radnor being hit hard by graduation.


Conestoga senior guard Brendan Syer is committed to Wilkes. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Forcine has a strong, experienced nucleus back in 6-foot senior guard Brendan Styer, 6-2 junior guard Ben Robinson, 6-4 senior forward Westin Fryberger and 6-2 senior forward Liam Smith. Add 5-10 sophomore point guard Rowan Miller, a transfer from Malvern Prep, and the Pioneers could be in position to make a push for the Central League title. Forcine will also have considerable depth in 6-4 senior center Sean Mackey, 6-1 sophomore guard Shane O’Brien, 6-3 sophomore forward Cory Hogan, 6-3 junior forward Sam Gibbs and 6-1 senior guard Rowan Hornaday.

Grasping a new system, under a new coach last season, the Pioneers took some hard knocks—in more ways than one. It made them collectively realize where their shortcomings were and address them.

“Last year we were learning on the fly and now that coach Forcine has been here a full year, we not only know his whole system on the court, we also know him as a person and his philosophies,” said Styer, who committed to Wilkes to play basketball a few weeks ago. “We learned a lot about him. He learned a lot about us. That’s a huge connection going into the season. I’m not saying we did not have that connection between the players and coaches last year, there was, but it’s definitely much stronger going into this year. It will make a big difference.

“We have a lot of weapons. We have a lot of guys who can score the ball and defend multiple positions. The biggest thing for us to be successful will be playing as a team. We will need to give up a good shot if an even better shot is available. We need guys looking to make the right play and make the best available shot. We can’t have guys thinking that they have to get their 15 each night. That attitude can’t be there. If we play as a team, I think it will be hard to stop us.”

What needs to be corrected, Styer and Forcine acknowledge, is that the Pioneers must be physically tougher, both on the boards and defensively. Conestoga got pushed around on the boards last year.

“I think we have a lot of guys this year that can play and put the ball in the hoop,” Forcine said. “Our biggest challenges will be playing unselfish and each player not worrying about getting their own, but we hang our heads on defense and to get buckets off our defensive intensity. I like the fact that we return some leaders in Brendan, Ben and Westin, but we are a little undersized. We need to be more physical. One of the big things we learned from last year is if we do not play at a high physical level, then we don’t give ourselves the best chance to win. Rebounding, especially from our guards, is absolutely crucial.”

Miller may be the Pioneers’ secret piece that runs the offense. The Central League does not know about him yet, and Forcine likes his speed. Miller will be given the keys to push Conestoga’s transition offense. Forcine likes Miller’s vision and his pass-first attitude. He could be the glue guy that keeps Conestoga together.

This season is available for the Pioneers to take the Central League.

Smith is optimistic. He is willing to be patient and see where the league season turns, though is supremely confident in his teammates and Forcine and carries personal motivation into this season.

“We knew last year was going to lay the foundation for the future, and coach Forcine has his attitude principles that we follow and focuses on us as a team and helping each other,” said Smith, who is looking to attend Wake Forest and will be playing his last year of organized basketball. “We will have to make up for our lack of size with our speed. This league is filled with great coaches, and really good players. We need to keep the goal of getting better each day. This is a group that has played together for a decent amount of time. What we have right now is a really good group that has a lot of talent to win games.”

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.


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