Tyler Crespo (above) and Manheim Twp. return plenty of experience from a 14-win team last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
(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 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
NEFFSVILLE — When Matt Johns talks about swapping any of the four victories his Manheim Twp. program had pocketed against a particular backyard rival for a positive postseason result against that same Lancaster-Lebanon League bunch, he’s not joking.
In fact, the season-ending 62-56 setback Township suffered at Hempfield continues to gnaw at the third-year head coach — especially when visions of a deep Ryan Moffatt jump shot with mere seconds to go in regulation that forced OT flash through his mind.
Township players also continue to feel the burn from that loss to a L-L Section I rival they’d bested twice earlier during the regular season and twice the year before. An early tumble from the L-L’s eight-team horse race at the hands of Lancaster Mennonite also didn’t sit well.
No wonder Johns’ Blue Streaks (14-10, 9-5 in 2017) are determined to make some memorable things happen while living up to the lofty expectations they’ve put in place.
“Collectively as a team, we definitely want to go deep into leagues because we didn’t have a chance to do that last year. We blew that game, so that wasn’t a good taste,” said 6-1 junior guard Brendan Mellott, one of several double-digit scorers returning. “So, hopefully our goal is to go further in leagues and further in districts, because we blew a fourth-quarter lead against Hempfield. I definitely feel our team is capable, because we have a lot more experience.”
With eight players back who logged important minutes down the stretch and in Township’s two postseason appearances, Johns should have an experienced bunch ready to roll when the Streaks open next weekend at home against an improved Elizabethtown side.
While the Streaks may not be quite as long as they were the past two years, they undoubtedly are more mobile and that’s why Township hopes to push the pace a bit.
Having the explosive 5-10 Tyler Crespo — Crespo was a first-team Section I all-star as a sophomore after averaging in double figures — alongside the slashing Mellott for a second straight season is one particular motive for wanting to rev up the attack.
“As a tandem, they complement each other really well,” Johns said of his two-year starting point guard, who last season shot better than 90 percent from the foul line, 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from beyond the arc. “Ty can score and Ty can shoot, and Ty’s becoming a really good passer.
“Brendan is such an unorthodox slasher. Brendan hits drifting, falling, fading away, off-the-glass shots in traffic. He can post up really, really well so he can get in there and sit. You try to put a bigger guy on him, he’s going to go around you. You try to put a smaller guy on him, he’s going to post him up. When he’s really playing well and he’s really in a good flow, he probably knocked down 18-20 3s last year.”
“His mentality is attack, attack, attack,” Mellott offered, referring to Crespo. “He’s just waiting for the moment and it’s going to come through. … He’s definitely hard to guard. Super quick.”
Mellott also tried to explain why his backcourt partnership with Crespo works so effectively.
“I’d just say it's our relationship off the court, because we work out together and we just know,” Mellott admitted. “We’re just like reacting to what we’re both doing. I’d say he’s more of a shooter than I am, but we can both take people off the dribble. So if we find someone — like there’s a mismatch or something — we both just recognize it and it just like happens. It’s more of like a friendship thing.”
Those in Section I will tell you the Crespo-Mellott duo works quite effectively, that’s for certain.
While Crespo and Mellott will form the heart of Township’s backcourt, 6-6 junior Tyler Vicidomini and 6-3 sophomore Zach Oldac are projected to be prominent performers up front.
Vicidomini is the younger brother of Nick Vicidomini, an all-Section I selection and one of three departed Streaks players who stood 6-5 or taller
No worries, however.
“Our game plan changes a little bit [because we’re smaller], but since our guards were dominant last year with Brendan and Ty, and they’re coming back this year so I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a change,” Vicidomini admitted. “They have experience and our guards aren’t new.
“All the guards coming back that started last year are starting this year, too.”
Unless someone noses him out for Township’s final starting nod, defensive-minded yet remarkably athletic 5-9 senior Reese Sachs likely will get the call.
Others in the backcourt mix include 5-10 senior Tommy Mann, 6-2 junior Hilton Ridley and 6-0 junior Will Greiner. Ridley will join Johns' Streaks once football season comes to a close and he's done catching touchdown passes.
Additional size up front will come from 6-4 senior Cameron Mulcavage and 6-4 Blake Hoffmaster, another member of the Township football squad that just won the school’s first District 3 championship.
“We have more offensive ability than we did last year and we were scoring the ball really, really well by the end of the year,” Johns recalled. “The difference is in how we’re going to get it. Last year we were pretty heavily dependent on sets and getting the ball inside to create shots.
“I think we have a lot more ability to flow with our offense this year, move the ball and we’re definitely going to play faster. I like to play fast, but I’m not going to play fast if it doesn’t work to my advantage. With this group, we’re going to play much faster than we did last year.”
Although Elizabethtown will get the first regular-season look at Township’s revved-up attack — Red Land and Holy Ghost Prep also are entered in the Streaks’ Tip-Off Tournament — other nonleague encounters will come against Central Dauphin, Manheim Central, Exeter, Governor Mifflin, Red Lion and Dallastown as Johns & Co. prep for what should be an interesting Section I race.
While Cedar Crest has an experienced group and McCaskey always is athletic and potentially flammable, Johns believes Conestoga Valley cannot be overlooked.
And then, there’s Hempfield.
Hoping to erase the remains of that lingering sting, a quick beginning is on a blue-tinted to-do list.
“Our goal is to be really, really hungry, because in the end I think there will be teams that are gunning for us because we are returning Ty and we are returning Brendan,” admitted Johns, a longtime assistant with the Streaks who returned to Township after fronting the Columbia program for two seasons. “We’re just going to go to work.
“The start is important, because I want us to get confidence early.”
Also on the must-have agenda, especially since the Streaks aren’t as long, is working the glass.
“We gotta have everyone crashing the boards except the point guard and I think we can do that with how athletic our team is and how deep we are,” Mellott suggested.
“I think it’s just got to be a hunter mentality, just go after it every play.”
Being a year older collectively and possessing more knowledge heading into this season than the Streaks did at this time 12 months ago also should be a plus — especially with a junior-heavy class that entered the program as Johns was reorganizing the basketball office.
“We’re so far ahead of where we were,” Johns readily admits. “While we’re always teaching, some of the foundational things I don’t have to teach these guys. Just so many foundational layers are there.
“Part of that is the reflection of our staff,” Johns added, referring to assistant coaches Ryan Butt, T.J. O’Gorman, Zac Sheetz, Todd Skolnick and Jordan Stewart. Johns was on Butt’s staff at Donegal in 2012-13, when the Indians reached the state semifinals.
“[Our players] know how to play the way we want to play. It takes several years to build that up.”
“It’s definitely got a more comfortable feel to it since we’ve all been together for so long,” Mellott said. “The three years that our coaching staff has been here, a lot of us have been here for those three years also, so we know what to expect and everybody just meshes well.”
While Johns & Co. have guided the Streaks to postseason appearances in back-to-back years, they’re definitely looking for quite a bit more this time around.
“I want us to have a sense of urgency this year,” Johns said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You never know who’s going to get hurt or what happens in the big picture. Don’t think about next year. Don’t think about your junior year … this is the year.”