Inexperienced Holy Ghost is hoping chemistry comes together early

BENSALEM – Holy Ghost Prep (HGP) senior Jack Coolahan would like nothing more than to see his team make a deep run into the postseason in 2016.

The Firebirds have done just that in the recent past, capturing District 1 Class AAA championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Last year, however, the team made an early exit in districts, falling by four points to fourth-seeded Pottsgrove in the D-1 quarterfinals.

This season, Coolahan wants to go to states. To do so, Ghost has to win districts, which would require winning three more playoff games than the ‘birds did last year.

“This year, we want to get back there and we want to get past that district final,” said Coolahan.

“It’s my last year so it’s definitely my biggest goal for this season. The younger guys who are coming in are pretty hungry too.”

If Ghost is to return to states, it is going to need a lot of help from the younger guys. The Firebirds’ numbers are down, so much so that head coach Tony Chapman has had to combine varsity and JV practices. What’s more, all five starters from last season including 6-4 senior Joe Braun – who is no longer attending HGP – have departed.

In addition to Coolahan, only seniors Julian Turner (6-1), Ryan Wade (6-0) and Jimmy Armentani (5-11) have returned to the varsity lineup.

“We usually have at least one guy – usually more than one – coming back with reasonable experience,” explained Chapman. “This year, we don’t have any. Julian (Turner) played last year but he was the eighth guy off the bench and Jack (Coolahan) played but he got banged up on two different occasions so he missed a lot of time.”

“To say we don’t have experience is an understatement.”

The good news is that 6-1 junior guard/forward Mike McFadden has returned to the lineup after missing all last season with a knee injury. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by classmate John McCrane, a 6-1 junior guard, Aidan Bauer, a 5-10 junior guard, along with Coolahan and Turner, who make up the front-court.

Juniors Kyle Cartin (5-10), Dan Pawluczyk (6-2), Joe Calvin (6-2), Luke McDonald (6-0)and Jack Beck (5-10) should also see time on the varsity court. Beyond that, Chapman was not tipping his cap, other than to say this is the first time in years that a few freshmen could break into the varsity lineup.

With the numbers down, HGP coaches recently made the decision to combine practices.

“We just don’t have the depth that we’ve had in the past,” stated Chapman.

“We’ll have a couple sophomores and a couple freshmen – which is highly unusual for me – who’ll have varsity uniforms.

“Whether they can help us or not remains to be seen.”

At 6-4, Coolahan is one of the tallest – if not the tallest – player on the team so he’ll be counted on a lot more this season underneath the basket.

“I’ll definitely be working inside a little bit more than last year,” said Jack.

In addition to Coolahan, Chapman is counting on McFadden, McCrane, Turner and Bauer – the starters – to put the ball in the basket. With that and help from the bench, the hope is that the ‘birds can pull through.

As always, the coach has been busy teaching the current group some solid defensive skills, fundamentals displayed by just about all of Chapman’s teams in the past.

“The key to our success has been defense,” Chapman said. “If we can hold teams to 40 points or less, we don’t have to have one kid scoring 18-20 points a game.

According to Coolahan, the chemistry on the squad appears to be jelling already.

“I feel like we’re coming together pretty well,” said Jack. “People are underestimating us but I think we can surprise some teams.

“And this group is pretty enthusiastic; I think we have a lot of enthusiasm for basketball.”

Player and coach are hoping that kind of excitement for the game can take Holy Ghost a long way.

“You work with what you got,” explained Chapman. “We’re not as big, we’re not as fast, we’re not as strong and we don’t have a lot of experience.

“I think it’s going to be a growing year. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take for these guys to blend together.”

Jack says the current group is close-knit.

“The guys on this team really like each other a lot better than last year,” said Collahan.

Another thing Chapman likes about this squad is its work ethic and good attitude.

“I have to be patient; we’re used to a lot of success,” said Chapman.

“We’ll get there; we’ve always gotten there to some degree.

“We started out 2-7 last year but we turned things around.

“Last year had disaster written all over it so we’ll see; that’s why you coach.”

To review, four of those first seven losses were to Quad-A schools including state qualifier Pennsbury and Catholic League quarterfinalist Father Judge. Another came at the hands of Church Farm School, which had a couple of players from Iceland on it.

By the time Ghost saw the Griffins again in February, the ‘birds had won eight of their last nine and the Gundmunsson brothers had high-tailed it back to their homeland.

A 44-31 win at home that night over CFS, a victory at Quad-A Neshaminy and the second one of the season over New Hope-Solebury and the Firebirds had wrapped up a 14-10 regular season. Ghost then pasted a 22-point win over Bristol in a BAL Tournament opener which was preceded by a 3-point semifinal loss to eventual league champion Lower Moreland, before heading to districts.

Before he graduates, Coolahan, along with his coach, is hoping for another such turnaround this – his last – time around the court.

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