PIAA Boys Basketball: Competitive Practices Have Helped To Power Wyoming Seminary’s Success
KINGSTON — The box scores and reports paint a clear picture of what helps Wyoming Seminary win.
Guard Jeremy Callahan was last year’s division MVP, an award kept in the program this season when forward Dimitri Gnall earned the honor.
Point guard Tyler Maddock runs the offense as a four-year starter, while 6-foot-4 center Nick Ganter controls the paint.
Forward Todd Phillips saved his greatest performance for the biggest game of his varsity career, a 56-39 win against Holy Redeemer for the District 2 Class 3A championship, which, when blending together all these players, should come as no surprise.
But, according to those in the program, that’s only scratching the surface of what has keyed this historic season.
“I think one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful this year is our practices are some of the most competitive that I’ve experienced,” said Maddock, who hopes to play for an NCAA Division III program. “A couple years ago, we wouldn’t find much challenge when we were facing the second-team. Now, every day is a battle.”
The results back up Maddock’s claim, evidenced by the Blue Knights’ 21-4 record entering Saturday’s state playoff opener at Wilkes against Mastery Charter South. The Blue Knights were 4-17 in 2014-15, followed by a combined 28-17 the next two years.
Half of one of the team’s three sets of brothers — senior Tyler and freshman Andrew Maddock, senior Dan and junior Ben Paglia, sophomore Alex and freshman Ethan Meuser — Dan Paglia offers underclassmen the perspective that good, hard practices benefit everyone on the team.
“We split up into two different groups usually, and then we compete against each other,” Dan Paglia said. “I think, as an older guy on the team, some of the younger guys can forget that every practice matters. So we have to keep them there mentally and make sure everyone’s giving all their effort at all times.”
The Maddocks, Paglias and Meusers represent just a handful of the familial ties within the program.
As a freshman, Nick Ganter was the sixth-man and played alongside his then-senior brother Pat Ganter, who’s now on the rowing team at St. Joseph’s.
“It was an amazing experience, honestly,” Nick Ganter said. “I wish I could have it back.”
Wyoming Seminary also benefits from head coach C.J. Kersey, who grew up around the school’s athletic program.
Kersey attended Sem, where his father, Jim Kersey, was the longtime baseball coach into the mid-1990s.
“I grew up around sports and I grew up around coaches,” Kersey said. “Along with my dad, Gary Vanderburg was the basketball coach and my basketball coach at Sem. Marv Antinnes was the football coach. So for me, a lot of the people I looked up to growing up were coaches.”
After coaching eight years at Culver Academy in Indiana, Kersey returned home to coach the Blue Knights beginning in 2002.
This is the first time the Blue Knights qualified for the PIAA tournament under Kersey, who made sure the Blue Knights recognize some of their biggest supporters.
Earlier this week, Sem presented former lawmaker Kevin Blaum and his wife, Beth, with their own District 2 gold medals.
“It was heartwarming,” said Beth Blaum, who long worked as the head nurse and is currently the school’s director of health services. “When you work at a school like this for as long as I’ve worked, the kids become your kids. It is a family. I look after them as I would my own children and I’m super proud of them — when they win, when they lose, how they handle themselves in adversity. It’s a good place to be, and we love to support them.”
Kevin Blaum, a retired state representative whose support was instrumental in the building of Mohegan Sun Arena, estimates he and his wife attended about 90 percent of Sem’s games at home and on the road this year, even driving through an ice storm to Berwick.
“Whether they win or lose, C.J. Kersey is a great coach and they leave it all out on the court,” Kevin Blaum said. “That is the human spirit in athletics. On a cold, winter night, it’s fun to go out and watch that. It gives you the excitement and chills and endorphins start flowing.”
Kersey said the team plans on awarding two more gold medals to its trainer and custodian.
Recognizing the loyal fans symbolizes one of the messages that Kersey preaches: Winning a district title and going to states required a total team — if not community — effort.
“One of the things we talked about after the game on Thursday night was that this was truly a team victory, that it wasn’t just the seven guys who played on the court,” Kersey said. “The other six or seven guys who dressed have been a huge part of it. Working hard in practice, they’re younger and their day is going to come. … The harder they play in practice, the better our top group is going to be in terms of the looks they get. They’ve done a great job in terms of that.”
It helps, too, that Sem’s players genuinely enjoy competing with one another, as the older players in the fall organized pregame tailgates and events to bring everyone together.
If that translates into another win Saturday, it’d likely set up a game against reigning state champion and favorite to win it all again, Neumann-Goretti.
“We always hang out together and we’re just a really close-bonded group of guys,” Ganter said. “I think that really shows in how we play basketball.”
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