2021-22 Basketball Season Preview: Derry Area Trojans

Trojans boys look to ride momentum of first playoff win; DA girls battle low numbers with top player returning

Sat Dec 18, 2021 - 9:37AM

John Flickinger John Flickinger
Derry will lean on returners Tiana Moracco and Tyson Webb this season. (Photos by www.westernpasports.com)Derry will lean on returners Tiana Moracco and Tyson Webb this season. (Photos by www.westernpasports.com)

Last Updated: Sat Dec 18, 2021 - 1:57AM

Derry Area Trojan Boys

Head Coach: Tom Esposito – 4th Season

Conference: Class 4-A Section 1

Last Season: 6-7 overall - Defeated Southmoreland in WPIAL preliminary round; Lost to Quaker Valley in WPIAL 4A first round

Key Losses: Ryan Bushey, Sam Jones, Josh Ulery, Nick Detore, Grant Hudson

Key Returners: Tyson Webb, Gabe Carbonara, Jake Watson

Promising Newcomers: Brady Angus, Nate Papuga, Ashton Beighley, Ethan Frye, Colin Bush, John Wasnick

The Derry Area basketball team made history a year ago becoming the first Trojan boys’ team to win a postseason game. The 64-39 home victory over Southmoreland was certainly something to build on for long time coach Tom Esposito, who’s teams have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs three straight seasons since he took over the program for his second stint as head coach at DA in 2019.

Derry Area graduated eight seniors including four starters from last season’s squad that finished (6-7) in a COVID shortened campaign. Standouts Ryan Bushey, Sam Jones, Josh Ulery, Nick Detore, and Grant Hudson have moved on to college, and this season’s roster looks quite a bit different, but according to the coach, it has plenty of promise.

The Trojans have only one returning starter in senior Tyson Webb. Fellow senior Jake Watson along with junior Gabe Carbonara also saw playing time last season and are expected to be a key contributor’s says Esposito.

“We expect a lot out of Tyson. He was in the gym less than a month after we lost to Quaker Valley in the playoffs last year with Coach Po (Matt Polinsky) and I averaging around 250 jump shots a night. We challenged him every night to catch and shoot with a quicker release and sharpen his skills of shooting off the dribble."

“Ty has become a leader by example and a more vocal leader this season, and Jake is a workhorse. His understanding of the game has developed very well and keeps us balanced on offense and can cause havoc on a point guard or defend in the post. Gabe may have the most complete skill set of any player I've coached at Derry. He has the potential to take a game over and when that happens, he's going to make his teammates that much better."

With such a young roster, Esposito hopes he can get the most out of some of his talented underclassmen, while at the same time leaning on his seniors to guide them along.

"It's going to be a growing process every night whether it's a practice or game," Esposito said. "We feel we have the skill set to develop into a pretty good defensive team with the goal of our offense feeding off our defense. We need to mature both on and off the court quickly and gain a better understanding of the ebb and flow of the game."

Two of the younger players Esposito is counting on this season include sophomore guards Nate Papuga and Brady Angus.

“Brady understands the game very well he's like a coach on the floor and plays the game the way we like. Nate is a solid shooter and is starting to develop a better understanding of the game as well as improving his defensive skills.”

Other Trojans who will be looked upon to make an impact off the bench include junior Ashton Beighley, sophomores Ethan Frye and Colin Bush, and freshman John Wasnick.

"At this point of the season we are comfortable with 7-9 players rotating in at various positions which is good within our offense because there aren't any set positions within our offense," he explained. "Everybody needs to understand how to execute our offense regardless of what position they find themselves on the court."

Esposito is excited for the challenges he will face in the section but realizes it will be a tall task for the Trojans to make a fourth straight postseason appearance.

"Every team in our section is looking to win it and that’s how good our section is. It's going to be a dogfight with four or five teams as realistic section title contenders. Regardless of the competition, Esposito wants to focus on his team and let the rest take care of itself.

“Our goal is to improve every day in practice, work harder than our opponent, and that will improve our team chemistry, skill set and give us confidence as the year progresses."

His team is off to a nice start to the season as the Trojans have won three of their first four games. After an 81-45 setback in the opener against a strong Kiski Area team, Derry defeated Homer Center 52-31, Greensburg Salem 72-53 and opened section play with a 64-61 victory over Keystone Oaks on Friday.

Derry Area Trojan Girls

Head Coach: Gene Brisbane – 3rd Season

Conference: Class 4-A Section 1

Last Season: 3-11 overall

Key Losses: Alanna Meloy

Key Returners: Tiana Moracco, Rachelle Marinchek, Mara Lewis, Sara Bungard, Faith Shean

Promising Newcomers: Jane Huss, Samantha Gruska, Allie Chamberlain,

Derry Area girls basketball coach Gene Brisbane has been around the circles of high school basketball for a long time, and like any tenured coach, has faced many challenges throughout the years. This season may be the biggest of them all as the Trojans sport a roster size of just nine players competing in Section 1-4A.

What makes things even more difficult is that DA has only one true returning starter in senior guard Tiana Moracco, who was last year's leading scorer by a wide margin, and has been getting several collegiate looks. The Trojans finished just (3-11) overall and (1-9) in section play a year ago, and although Brisbane was hoping that some of the younger girls from last year would have stayed on the team, he is optimistic the girls he does have are capable of getting better and competing against all of the teams in the section.

“I don’t know exactly why some of the girls did not return, but I can come up with a few good guesses,” Brisbane exclaimed.

He said that time off during COVID-19 could have given some of the girls other things to become interested in, steering them away from the game. He also believes that too many athletes are concentrating on just one sport, and although he understands everyone is entitled to their own opinion, the coach believes at a school like Derry Area, it’s a necessity to play multiple sports to be successful.

“I think all coaches of our teams in the school district need to promote other sports and not just have the kids focus on one. When I look at bio’s of collegiate athletes, it’s very rare they have only participated in one sport. In fact, most of them played three sports,” Brisbane added.

Although the coach is disappointed with the turnout, he says the girls he does have are working hard and he remains optimistic they can compete with any team they play.

“We have an all hands-on deck situation here, and we have all agreed that we are going to come in here each day and get better with basketball skills, but more than that, we are going to try and have our basketball knowledge improve each day and understand our offenses and defenses much better.”

Moracco will be heavily counted upon, but Brisbane knows she can handle her own, and at the same time, make the girls around her better.

“Each year Tiana has added to her game skill wise, and I talked with her about general overall leadership from a senior standpoint, and she has embraced all of that. I believe she will continue to blossom even beyond her high school years.”

Moracco has been the leading scorer for the Trojans since her sophomore season, and she will look to some of her teammates to take some of the pressure off teams focusing on her. Sophomore Rachelle Marinchek and junior Mara Lewis also return this season as they both saw considerable playing time a year ago. Senior Faith Shean, who has had two surgeries to fix injuries during her high school career, is back and healthy for her senior campaign. Sara Bungard, a junior, also returns with some varsity experience, and junior Lauren Hood, who due to injuries has not played basketball since sixth grade, is working hard to make an impact.

Brisbane has also been pleased with the work ethic of sophomores Samantha Gruska and Allie Chamberlain, along with talented freshman Jane Huss.

As far as the competition ahead, Brisbane believes there will be quite of bit of parity in the section, and says the team to beat should be the Knoch Knights because they are the defending champions, and return most of their starters. Highlands and Freeport should also be among the top teams with several upperclassmen returning.

“For us to compete with these teams we have to be a much more efficient team than we were last year," Brisbane explained. "Every single girl on our team needs to be a better basketball player and they are continuing to work to do that. All of the skills, the shooting, making your free throws and limiting turnovers all have to be there, and if we improve to that point, we will have a chance to win some games.”

The Trojans are currently (2-2) overall and (1-0) in the section. They picked up a non- section win over Jeannette (47-12) and opened up section play Thursday night with a big win against Valley (47-11). They also dropped non-section games to Monessen (50-41) and Apollo Ridge (39-36).