UPPER MERION >> A lot can change in one year.
The Upper Merion boys basketball team is proving that. The Vikings finished the 2014-15 season with a 3-19 overall record and 2-12 mark against Suburban One League American Conference competition.
This season, UM is 11-5 overall, sitting in third place with a 6-4 league record and is believed to be ranked 11th in the latest District One AAAA power rankings.
“Obviously growing up a little bit,” head coach Jason Quenzer said of his team’s improvement. “We didn’t lose any of the guys to graduation, so our core has been here for a pretty good amount of time. Playing together and getting one year older definitely helps. I think just defensively we’ve stepped up and we’ve been committed to make sure we give every effort on the defensive side of the ball and it’s really paid off for us this year. Most games we are keeping teams in the 40s or below.
“You can preach it all you want, but I think for them (the players) they are starting to see the success, so they are getting a little bit more confident.”
Not only are the Vikings showing progress from one year to the next, they have been playing better basketball now compared to the beginning of this season.
Upper Merion started this season with a pair of SOL American losses — an 11-point home loss to Cheltenham and a 31-point defeat at Plymouth Whitemarsh — en route to a 4-4 record when students returned from their holiday break.
Since, the Vikings are 7-1 and out-scoring opponents by nearly 10 points-per-game. They were on the wrong end of a two-point buzzer beater in their lone loss during that stretch at Cheltenham.
Last week Upper Merion picked up its biggest win in years and avenged its earlier loss to PW. The Vikings ended the Colonials undefeated season with a 57-43 victory at Upper Merion Area High School.
In the last eight games, UM is finding different ways to win. Matt Faw scored 30 points in a 14-point win over Jenkintown, reserve Anthony Capistrano hit a three with 11 seconds left in a two-point triple overtime win against Springfield and the team finished the PW win on a 15-0 run, shooting 15-for-16 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
“Once you get a win, you kind of build off of that,” Quenzer said. “Obviously opening up with PW and Cheltenham right away is a really tough way to start the year. I think ever since we found our footing and we’re just playing really good basketball right now and we hope it continues.”
Upper Merion appears to be set up for not just a strong finish to this season, but a great one next year. Four starters — Aidan Newll, Ethan Miller, Chris Carita and Faw — and the sixth man — Andrew Persaud — are only juniors.
“I’m lucky,” Quenzer, who started coaching this class when they were in seventh grade, said. “They are a great group of kids and they are playing their best basketball right now. Just to be a part of it is a lot of fun. We try not to look towards the future too much. This is unfamiliar territory for all of us — coming from three wins last year and now we have 11, that’s crazy. We’re just riding the train and having fun while it lasts … It has been a lot of fun and to think of having this group again for next year, the ceiling is high for this group.”