Pennsbury senior forward Mark Flagg returns to the lineup along with shooting guard Addison Howard, and point guard Tyler Sessa-Reeves. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)
FALLS TWP. – Pennsbury wasn’t the only team that was upset in the first round of last year’s District 1-Class AAAA Tournament. No. 13 seed Cheltenham, eighth-seeded Strath Haven and 2015 D-1 champion Abington all lost in the first round of the tourney.
The only 2016 playoff loss Falcons coach Bill Coleman is concerned about is Pennsbury’s 41-30 loss to No. 17 CB East – a state qualifier last season – in a D-1 playoff opener.
For a team that went to the PIAA quarterfinals and the district semifinals the year before, an 11-point loss to the Patriots was a shocker.
“We got off to a pretty good start last year – seven-and-one – but finishing the way we did, .500 the rest of the season, for me, it took a lot for me to get over it,” said Coleman.
“And I know it took a lot for the guys to get over it as well.”
Not everyone was surprised at the Falcons’ early exit in districts. While it finished with wins over Downingtown East, William Tennent and Truman, Pennsbury fell into a midseason slump where it lost five of seven games including a 20-point loss to Suburban One National League champion Abington.
The loss to CB East left the Falcons with a 15-8 record just one year after going 25-7 and two seasons after posting a 23-6 mark. But that was then, say Coleman, focusing instead on the current campaign.
“We’re expecting a lot from the guys this season,” said Coleman. “This year is all about paying respect to the group that started out 7-1 last year after losing three all-state caliper players the year before.”
“They put a lot of work in over the summer and as we came into the season,” “Hopefully, it pays off.”
While senior shooting guard Rob Daley (Ithaca College) has graduated, Pennsbury has a lot of pieces back from last year along with some new additions.
Big 6-8 forward Isaiah Carpenter has transferred to Bensalem but starters Addison Howard, Tyler Sessa-Reeves and Mark Flagg are all back in the rotation.
The new additions to the lineup in the current campaign include 6-9 junior Chad Weldon and 6-7 senior Billy Warren, a Philly Heat player who transferred into the district from Neshaminy.
“There’s no doubt, Billy brings another aspect to our game,” said Coleman. “He gives us a big that’s mobile, likes to play defense and run the floor.
“He’ll definitely help Mark (Flagg) out.
“We like to put pressure on the ball up front with our guards and he gives us another rim protector. Now, you’re looking at two very athletic 6-7-plus kids that can defend the rim.”
Then, there’s 6-4 Gary Francis, an AAU player for Team Philly in the summer months.
“As a group, we coaches all want our young guys to hurry up and mature and Gary is starting to do that,” said Coleman.
“He’s pretty talented and out of all our guys, he works the hardest.
“Once everything starts clicking for him, he’s going to be fun to watch.”
Forward Joey Monaghan, a sixth man last year, is also back for his senior campaign. Additional guards who will see time in the rotation are juniors Rayla Whitten, Josh Aruda and Jake Martel.
“We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” explains Coleman. “It’s a matter of them working together as a group and really learning what they are truly capable of doing.”
The Falcons entered last season without the services of Cameron Jones (St. Peter’s), Derrick Woods (Saint Bonaventure) and Mekhi Bryant (Baltimore City CC). That meant they were really depending on Flagg, a Jersey Shore Warrior who started the season off strong.
Midway through the campaign, Flagg lost his shooting touch. Even foul shots became difficult. Opponents figured out they could foul Mark if they had to without paying the price.
“Mark is definitely a key part to what we want to do this season,” said Coleman.
“Mark needs to simplify his game and understand where he is going to be successful, not just here in high school, but also in college.
“Once he grabs that understanding, he’ll be very successful.”
With Flagg, Howard, Sessa-Reeves and Monaghan all entering their final campaign, Coleman and company is well aware that the time at hand is precious for this group.
“There’s no doubt, we want to see them be successful,” said Coleman. “We really need the guys to understand what it takes to win at the level we want to win at.”
“The things we did wrong last year, we have to improve on and take our weaknesses and make them strengths.”
It all starts with the defense, said Coleman.
“If we defend like we’re capable of defending, we can run with the best of them.
“It comes down to our ability to defend, protect the rim and rebound.”
Pennsbury’s season starts Dec. 9 vs. Berks Catholic at Reading High School’s Geigle Complex. SOL National play begins Dec. 16 at Abington.
“Whoever is heading up the schedule this year wanted to start things off with a bang,” said Coleman.
The Falcons, who topped Abington by six points in their league opener last season, face the BCIAA finalist Saints at 6:30 while Reading hosts Imhotep Charter at 8 p.m. Both the 4A Red Knights and the 3A Panthers were PIAA semifinalists last season.
NOTES: Former Conwell-Egan Catholic boys basketball coach Frank Sciolla has apparently been tabbed to coach the Pennsbury girls team. The Lady Falcons are coming off back-to-back 4-10 seasons in the SOL National Conference.