HOUTZDALE — The Moshannon Valley boys basketball team finds itself heading into the 2021-22 season with plenty of experience, something several Progressland area teams lack this year.
The Knights return eight letterwinners in seniors Kadin Hansel, Skylar Kephart, Michael Kitko, Chase Shoemaker and Ethan Webb. Also back are juniors Sam Howard and James Hummel, along with sophomore Tanner Kephart.
“I expect to see more cohesiveness on the court, as well as more vocal leadership from our returning lettermen,” said Knights head coach Justin Rydbom. “This group has played a lot of basketball together so they know how each other plays and the strengths of each other.”
While Webb is returning back to the squad after suffering a serious knee injury last season, the team will be without the services of Skylar Kephart, who is out for the season with an injury of his own.
“Missing Skylar’s leadership and effort will have to be filled collectively as a group,” Rydbom said. “Skylar was never afraid to speak up and would always pick others up if someone was down on themselves. He is a kid that gives 100% effort, 100% of the time, and we’ll need everybody to step up and give that same effort.”
The team lost just seniors from last year’s team in Jayden Coder and Trey Lyon. With a year under their belts, the underclassmen who saw a lot of time will be reaping the benefits with that extra year of experience.
‘Being youthful last season should pay big dividends this season, we’re already seeing that in practice,” Rydbom said. “We had to thrust a lot of first-year varsity players into meaningful minutes last season, but that helped them to get a feel for the speed of the game at the varsity level. Those valuable minutes also allowed the kids to build a rapport with each other that may not have happened with a more seasoned group.”
Lyon was a big rebounder and scorer for the Knights last season, but Rydbom feels he has players who can step into that role and help the team night in and night out.
“Michael Kitko will play a huge role in picking up where Trey left off,” he said. “He’s bigger and stronger and has an incredibly high basketball IQ, he’ll be the glue to our team on the court.
“Ethan Webb’s return should really help to offset the loss of the points and rebounds as well. He is a strong player with a good feel for the game. Ethan has the ability to score, attack the boards, and play pressure defense.
“Sam, Kadin, Chase, James, and Tanner are all guys who played a lot of minutes last year and have all stepped up their game. It’ll be a group effort to replace a double-double guy, but they’re all ready for the challenge.”
Rydbom said the guys have been working hard since the end of last season and are more than ready to get back out on the court.
“This group has put in a tremendous amount of work since the end of last season and they’re all hungry for success,” he said. “These kids have really gelled both on and off the court. They know each other better, have more ball handling ability, and all are much more aggressive. I’m most impressed with the decision making, which should cut down on the turnovers.”
Still the team is working on several things leading up to their season opener.
“We need to continue to work on attacking the boards, yet play with more control and stay out of foul trouble,” said Rydbom. “Conditioning is always a concern early in the season, but I’m confident we’ll be ready to go.”
While the Knights have several players who could fill the five starting spots, Rydbom said he still isn’t ready to set his lineup just yet.
“We feel like we have a starting five in our heads, but nothing is set in stone at this point,” he said. “We’re seeing everyone compete hard in practice and there are probably seven or eight guys pushing for five spots.
“Fortunately, we have more depth than what we’ve had over the past few years, so we can look at all seven or eight of those kids as starters.”
The team said their goal is to compete at a high level in both of their leagues (ICC and MVL).
“This group has district playoff aspirations and we see that in each practice as all of the kids are giving tremendous effort and doing everything we’re asking of them,” said Rydbom.
The success of the baseball team, which reached the PIAA playoffs last year has really helped build the confidence to reach for those goals.
“I truly believe the baseball team’s success is carrying over to the basketball court,” said Rydbom. “We have a bunch of guys who were integral parts of that team and they all want to experience the same type of success during our season, especially the seniors.
“Coach (Connor) Holobinko, Coach (Kevin) Howard, and I talk about how this group just needs to be confident and believe in themselves and each other to achieve success. The baseball players did just that during their season and we’re seeing that in our practices now.”
Moshannon Valley opens its season on Dec. 13 at West Branch.
Cooper Dunlap, *Kadin Hansel, *Skylar Kephart, *Michael Kitko, *Chase Shoemaker, *Ethan Webb.
Dreyden Gardner, *Sam Howard, *James Hummel.
Micah Beish, Landyn Evans, *Tanner Kephart, Oscar Lin.
Landon Buck, Kyle Merrick, Zach Reifer.
*Denotes returning letterwinners.
13—at West Branch. 15—at Claysburg-Kimmel. 17—at Curwensville. 20—Bellwood-Antis. 22—at Philipsburg-Osceola.
3—Juniata Valley. 5—Harmony. 7—at Mount Union. 10—Glendale. 11—at Northern Cambria. 13—at Williamsburg. 17—Philipsburg-Osceola. 19—Claysburg-Kimmel. 21—West Branch. 25—Curwensville. 28—at Bellwood-Antis.
1—at Juniata Valley. 2—Northern Cambria. 4—Mount Union. 8—at Glendale. 9—at Harmony. 11—Williamsburg.
All games begin at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.