The operative word for Chris Monahan and his Radnor players Sunday was relief.
Not so much that they’d survived the bubble and found a way into the District One Class AAAA tournament with the 31st and next-to-last seed. But all season, the Raiders have wrestled with the pervasive feeling that injuries have prevented them from showing their full capability.
So when the group saw its name included in the 32-team field, the joy stemmed as much from one more chance to actually do what they’d planned for the last few years growing together.
“We were the definition of ‘on the bubble,’ but we were tracking points all along,” Monahan said by phone Wednesday. “We wanted to win the last two games and get to 13 (wins) and be shored up. But when we lost the last game, it was deflating in the locker room for sure. We weren’t real sure. So getting the word from the meeting was like new life and new season. The seed didn’t matter, just the fact that we’re in.”
It’s been mentioned before but it’s worth repeating: On only two instances this season has Radnor (11-11) had a full complement of players thanks to injuries. Friday’s trip to No. 2 seed Plymouth Whitemarsh (20-2) makes three.
The difficulty of their matchup comes with the underdog territory. But Monahan is focusing on his guys. Only twice all season – Jan. 22 against Marple Newtown and in the last game, Feb. 4 against Strath Haven – did Radnor have its full roster available. Guards Phil Regan and Alex Hino and forwards Jake Bodenger, Vernon Harper and Mason Ressler have all missed time this year.
They’re all healthy, though, said Monahan, with his fingers crossed ahead of Thursday’s practice. It’s been that kind of year.
Against the Colonials (20-2), they’ll have their hands full. PW’s only losses have come to Upper Merion and Central Bucks West, the latter 53-46 in overtime in the Suburban One playoffs. The SOL American champs were the District One runners-up last year.
PW is led by Xzavier Malone, one of the best scorers in the district, a 6-4 Rider signee who presents a dire matchup for most teams.
But he’s not the only one who can hurt Radnor. Monahan concedes a height disadvantage across the board, from 6-6 senior forward Mike Lotito to Oakley Spencer and Kevin Ashenfelter, at 6-2 and 6-3, respectively.
With those matchup conundrums, Monahan is focusing on minimizing Radnor’s mistakes and maximizing the chance to play on their terms.
“We can’t give them anything easy,” he said. “They get a lot from points off turnovers, off offensive rebounds. We have to try to play a clean game and take care of the ball and get good shots every time.”
Radnor’s key to victory: Michael Li. The Raiders are 5-1 in games in which the guard gets into double-figures. He’s averaging 7.0 points per game, which is fifth on the team, though Li is one of only two players (with Vinnie Kelly) to play in each game this season. He’ll expend a lot of energy defensively, potentially drawing Malone in a match where he would give up about six inches, but if he can get his offensive game going, it’ll be a huge positive.