By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Carl Schaller could tell Gettysburg was building towards something good.
The Bullets had been solid in the Garnet Valley product’s first two years with the program, finishing 15-10 overall and 11-7 in the Centennial Conference his freshman season, then going 16-11 (12-6) last year, finishing in third place in the 10-team conference each time. Both years, their seasons ended with losses to Swarthmore in the Centennial semifinals.
Gettysburg's Carl Schaller. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
This year has been the breakthrough. The Bullets are in a position to do something they’ve never accomplished, Schaller one of the leaders on a team that’s been on a tear in 2024.
“Just feels totally different this year than the two years before,” Schaller said. “Just all the hard work we’ve put in on the offseason, starting so early — September 15th this year — it’s all paying off.
“It’s just fun when you’re winning.”
He would know.
A 70-46 win over Haverford College on Saturday moved Gettysburg to 16-5 on the season, 12-2 in the Centennial Conference. The Bullets are in a three-way tie for first place with Franklin & Marshall and Johns Hopkins, four games away from being Centennial Conference regular-season champions for the first time in program history.
The last few years, the Centennial has been run by Hopkins and Swarthmore, those two winning the last six league titles. But Gettysburg has gone 4-0 against the pair this season, winning at Hopkins in November to set the tone and beating the pair back-to-back at home on Jan. 27 and Jan. 31 to make it clear this group was for real.
“I think we’re a pretty confident group but maybe not necessarily that everyone believed that we could do (that),” Schaller said. “But after we were able to get those four wins, I think everyone believes and everyone’s on board
Schaller, a third-year starter, has been in the thick of it. The 6-foot-tall, 170-pound guard is second on the team in scoring (11.8 ppg) and minutes (31.2), its leader in assists (50) and steals (33), putting together a quality collegiate career after a similarly strong one at the high school level.
He hasn’t had to score quite as much this year as he did last season (14.0 ppg), the emergence of Jordan Stafford and others meaning the Bullets are deeper than in years past. But it’s clear from how often the ball passes through his hands on the offensive end and how hard he plays on the defensive one that he’s invaluable to their success.
“He’s been awesome,” Gettysburg coach B.J. Dunne said. “We go as he goes, he gives us everything on both ends of the floor, he’s super-cerebral, incredibly focused and disciplined.
“The way he competes in practice sets the tone for everybody, he added. “If you watch Carl move, he’s so good defensively — he never gets hit by screens; they try and post him, it’s impossible to; he boxes guys out. He just does so many little things defensively and I think that is leadership when your point guard is willing to give everything that they have.”
At Garnet Valley, Schaller first emerged as a pint-sized lead guard with talent beyond his years, the next in a line of productive scoring point guards under head coach Mike Brown. As he grew from barely over 5-feet-tall as a freshman to close to his current height as a senior, he became one of the best guard not just in the league but in all of District 1, a lethal three-level scorer with great ball skills who also knew how to find his teammates and play within Brown’s offensive system.
Schaller won the Central League MVP award as a junior and senior, leading the Jaguars to their first Central League championship in 2019 after being upset in the playoffs the year before.
“To come together and be able to get that Central League championship was one of the best feelings ever,” he said. “That’s just the ultimate motivator, is being able to taste that again and get another one.”
Gettysburg's Ryan McKeon. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The primary difference-maker in Gettysburg’s step forward this year has been their defensive improvement. Opponents shot 41.5% overall and 32.8% from 3-point range last year, while Gettysburg had a +1.4 margin on the boards; this year, they’re at 37.8% overall and 27.0% from 3-point range, while the Bullets have a +5.4 rebounding margin.
That defense was clicking against Haverford (4-17, 1-13), which shot 17-of-52 (32.7%) against a smothering defensive effort which forced 15 turnovers.
They’ve been getting a great effort up front from 6-7 senior forward and Sanford School (Del.) product Ryan McKeon (7.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), who was a major presence in the Bullets’ win over the Fords on Saturday. It’s a big group in general, with McKeon, 6-8 sophomore Aidan Mess and 6-8 senior Antonello Baggi in the frontcourt rotation along with 6-6 wing Akim Joseph, who starts at the ‘4’ spot, and 6-4 wing Nate Williams.
“That was something that we wanted, [that] we were intentional about in the recruiting process, is we wanted to get bigger; we felt that that was how we were going to be able to not only compete, but somehow get past Swarthmore and Hopkins,” Dunne said. “They both play different stylistically, but length is important everywhere. It’s really helped us guard.”
The last starter is Stafford, the Bullets’ leading scorer. The 6-4 St. Joseph’s-Hammonton (N.J.) product has improved his scoring numbers from 5.4 ppg as a freshman to 11.5 ppg as a sophomore and now up to 15.0 ppg as a junior, hitting 52.4% from the floor. He, Schafer and Joseph (11.0 ppg) all average in double figures, with Williams (9.7 ppg) not far behind.
Stafford had a team-high 13 on Sunday, followed by Schaller's 12 and McKeon's 10; a dozen different Gettysburg players found the scoring column as Dunne went deep into his bench.
“I think Jordan Stafford deserves a lot of credit,” Schaller said. “He just came back this year a totally different player. He’s always in the gym, he’s always working hard. So when you have two players, three players who you can’t really key in on one because the other two are going to go off, and then Ryan down low, there’s not much you can do defensively.”
Gettysburg is in a good spot with four games to play. Its most difficult opponent left is Ursinus (11-10, 7-7), currently in fifth place in the league; Franklin & Marshall and Hopkins still have to play each other — at Hopkins on Tuesday — and they both have Swarthmore left on the schedule.
If both Gettysburg and F&M win out, the Diplomats’ two wins over the Bullets would have them in the top seed for the Centennial playoffs. But if it’s Hopkins and Gettysburg, the Bullets’ wins would have them No. 1 for the first time since the Centennial Conference started hoops play in 1992-93.
“We’ve got to root for Hopkins and Swat this week,” Dunne said. “Which is a rarity, but we need help.”
After the season, Schaller — who’s getting his degree in business with a minor in data management — said he’ll be interning this summer with Wawa as a retail business fuels analyst, which he promises isn’t just a way to get free buffalo chicken sandwiches and mac and cheese.
He’s hoping he won’t have to think about that for at least another month or more, after Gettysburg’s made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, perhaps with a conference championship banner to hang next year. In the meanwhile, his apartment — one he shares with four teammates — will continue to serve as the hangout spot for the whole Gettysburg squad, which one is clearly building on something special.
“It’s a good group of guys,” Schaller said, “and I’m just lucky to be part of it.”