Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
(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.)
In a frenzied gymnasium in Norristown last February, the Warriors led the Eagles by 12 points in the fourth quarter of a Pioneer Athletic Conference playoff game. From that moment forward, Methacton’s season went quickly downhill.
The Warriors squandered the double digit lead, losing in overtime to the Eagles that night. Then, Methacton lost to Garnet Valley in the opening round of the district playoffs just 10 days later. Despite the success throughout the season, with the emergence of Jeff Woodward and David Duda, the Warriors felt they could have done more.
“We were looking to advance past what we did and I think everyone in the locker room was disappointed that we didn’t come away with the win in those games,” head coach Jeff Derstine said.
Thanks to the culture and playing style Derstine has installed in his players through his seven previous years at the helm, the Warriors are prepared to replace a handful of senior shooters who graduated in June. Crandall Jones, Pat O’Neill, Liam Malachowski, Brett Marberger, and Andrew Pisano all contributed to the Methacton 3-point offense, and will not be around this season.
Through stingy defense, a slow-paced offense, and constant three-point shooting, the Warriors have the firepower to compete for a PAC title yet again. Derstine preaches discipline at both ends of the floor, limiting turnovers and capitalizing on mistakes of opponents. Surrounding Woodward with four shooters to space the floor will be the plan yet again for Methacton, who utilized the 6-9 forward frequently in the post last season.
“We’re going to focus on working inside-out this year, using Jeff to help open up space for our shooters,” junior Marcus Girardo said. “A lot of teams will double team him, which helps us shoot threes.”
With O’Neill gone, Methacton has lost its unquestioned leader at both ends of the floor. Averaging 9.2 ppg last season, The now Villanova baseball player was a three year varsity player who started both junior and senior year. The Warriors will now turn to Brett Eberly and Girardo to fill that void in the back court.
“It’s important to be a leader for everyone else,” Girardo said. “Being able to fill Pat and Crandall’s shoes, I’ve tried to study film and copy the things that they did well.”
Girardo is making the leap from junior varsity straight to the starting five, as Eberly transitions from a freshman rotation player into the starting backcourt as a sophomore. Girardo said he compares himself to Jones, and will look to replicate the success Jones had attacking the rim and playing aggressive defense. Much like last season, Methacton will lean on its inexperienced players to produce right from the opening tip.
Last year, Woodward may have been a freshman, but he certainly did not play like one. He was patient in the post, never panicking. As the year developed, the all-division second teamer showed progress in his coordination, skills, and passing ability out of the block. His finishing ability around the rim improved as he averaged 9.5 ppg. With his big frame, he was one of the leading rebounders in the league. And when the double team came, he seemed to always find the open shooter.
More often than not, that shooter was Duda. The 6-3 shooting guard and son of St. Joe’s assistant Dave Duda burst onto the scene last season as the team’s leading scorer. Averaging 11.3 ppg, Duda made 69 threes, third most in the conference. He returns this season looking to develop his all-around game and become a multi-dimensional scorer.
With defenses keying in on him, Derstine admits that Duda will have to prove he can put the ball on the floor and score. Gone are the days when he could just wait for open looks. He has to create himself.
“David understood that with the success he had last year, he was going to have to grow his game,” Derstine said. “He’s spent a lot of time this offseason strengthening his ball handling and his ability to take the ball to the basket.”
Rounding out the Warriors starting five is Noah Kitaw, who is the only Methacton player with two prior years of varsity experience. Kitaw started for part of his sophomore season, averaging 6.2 ppg. He then came off the bench sparingly last season, and is now the only senior in the Warriors’ starting lineup. As a senior leader, Kitaw is expecting to carry on the Methacton tradition and culture of previous teams.
“It’s our trademark, it’s who we are,” Kitaw said. “If we can knock down shots and play tough Methacton defense, we can win a lot of games this year.”
The Warriors have a trio of juniors that will come off the bench, all three getting their first varsity experience. Ben Christian, a two-sport athlete who also plays baseball, will join 6-2 Anmar Brown and 5-11 Conor Smith as they transition from junior varsity to their first varsity minutes.
“We have a lot of guys transitioning from junior varsity to varsity,” Derstine said. “It’s a difficult transition.”
The Warriors opened Friday night with a convincing 59-43 win over Upper Dublin, and they play Pennridge on Saturday night in the championship of the Pennridge tip-off tournament. With a tough non-conference schedule ahead, featuring Souderton (Dec. 12), Central Bucks West (Dec. 16), Ridley (Dec. 23), and Downingtown West (Jan. 27), Methacton will be eager to prove itself after ending last season on such a sour note.
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