A season on the brink?

COVID-19 has impacted all athletics programs in some capacity, and the LM boys’ basketball team is no exception. This passionate group of players and coaches remain hopeful and energetic, even in a statewide hiatus from the sport they love.

In a crazy year like 2020, the chaos has not fallen short of affecting the LM boys’ varsity basketball team. Last month, the team’s coaches brought everyone together via Zoom to discuss the state and future of the season. The November 17 meeting was called just one day after the LM Board of School Directors rejected a hopeful winter sports health and safety plan. The mood of the call was certainly dire and grim, as the team’s hopes to play a 2020-21 season were dissipating in front of their eyes. 

Head Coach Gregg Downer told the team “[the decision is] frustrating but it’s very important we’re following covid guidelines.” He went on to say, “We need to be staying in shape and positive and act like our season could start at any time.” Assistant Coach Kevin Grugan stressed the importance of academics for the players. He praised the boys for their hard work and success in their schoolwork this year and claimed that the team was the “strongest GPA group” he’s seen in a while. Assistant Coach Doug Young then wrapped up the meeting saying, “We’ll do everything in our power to make this [season] a positive experience.” 

The uncertainty the Aces faced in November was replaced with eager anticipation when the team officially began practicing Thursday, December 10. The Aces, however, had been preparing to start their season all fall. Talking to senior guard Sam Davison earlier this fall, he said, “If there is a season we will definitely be prepared. We’re 100%.” Davison went on to describe the team’s mindset ahead of the possible season; he claimed the team felt they were “gonna have a season and will be [as] prepared as possible.” He also said they planned to “work hard and outwork everyone.” 

The inaugural December 10 practice was kicked off by Coach Grugan, who told the Aces, “This [practice] is a gift and it can be taken away at any time.” In his fourteen-year stint coaching the Aces, this had been Grugan’s longest time out of the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium. The practice then got started with the team’s enthusiasm through the roof. 

Unfortunately, only a few minutes later, Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, ordered a business shutdown for three weeks, which included school sports. Head Coach Downer reacted to this devastating news at the end of what would be the Aces’ first and last practice of 2020, “This is terrible for you [players] and everyone else in the aces program.” He told his players to not “go out of the gym deflated but go out loving each other hoping for brighter days.” 

The Aces basketball team knows a thing or two about resilience. This year, they’ve battled through the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant and a season cut short due to the pandemic. They’ve had only one practice in their home gym since March. They’ve seen their season get pushed back week after week. But they remain confident that this shutdown is merely a roadblock, rather than a dead end. The team hopes for a Central League championship-contending season, as they bring back star big-man Demetrius Lilley ’22 and star combo-guard Sam Brown ’23. In addition, the team brings  back their strong, young core of underclassmen guards, who have improved during a very productive offseason. Also returning are key upperclassmen, including forwards Zack Wong ’21, Peter Gribbin ’22, Henry Bard ’22, and Luke Vaughan ’22, as well as guards Sam Davison ’21 and Jaylen Shippen ’22. The Aces also added to their pedigreed coaching staff by welcoming in new Assistant Coach Catherine Malatack, a former member of Susquehanna Womens’ Basketball. Coach Malatack brings a high energy presence to the Aces squad at a time when high energy is needed. 

With all of the momentum leading up to this season, it’s certainly an exciting time to be an Aces basketball fan. The team embarks on this unprecedented 2020-21 campaign with unending energy and high hopes.