Considering that it lost all five starters from last year, the 2020-21 season for the Chambersburg boys basketball team was always going to be a challenge.
Now throw in the facts that the Trojans’ most promising returning player transferred to another school, and one of their most talented players is currently sidelined with an injury — on top of all the COVID-19 issues — and you have a team that is expected to be under the radar in the always-competitive Mid Penn Commonwealth Division.
But that just might make Chambersburg, coached for the 22nd season by Shawn Shreffler, a dangerous opponent, especially after the team has time to get some games under its belt.
“This year’s offseason was impactful, but not in a good way,” Shreffler said. “(Because of COVID) we didn’t get to play together in the summer and fall, and this group needed to be acclimated to varsity-level competition. But I’m happy with our depth and I believe we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Four players return from last year’s 16-7 team that finished second in the Commonwealth — senior forward Carter Sollenberger (6-1, 5.6 points per game, 4 games in double figures); senior guards Gus Mace (5-10, 4.5 ppg) and Malaki Blair (5-11, 2.9 ppg); and junior guard Eli Shearer (6-4, 3.0 ppg). Shearer is still rehabbing an injury and will not open the season on the court.
A fifth returner would have been 6-7 sophomore forward Brant Byers, but he transferred to the Scotland Campus prep program.
Shreffler said, “Having Brant move on is definitely a blow to our program — guys who are long, skilled and savvy like him do not come along every year. But I’m happy for him. He feels like this is best for him to achieve the goals he set for himself, and I wish him nothing but the best as he represents the Trojans on a national stage.”
Losing Byers takes away Chambersburg’s tallest player. It’ll be up to the tenacious Sollenberger, as well as a trio of 6-4 juniors — James Lilley and twins Noah and Nevin Yeager — to fill the height gap.
“For the past four years, we’ve had some really nice size that other teams were probably envious of,” Shreffler said. “This year we have some hard-working kids who will battle and do the dirty work, kind of in the mold of (2019 grad) Ty Holsopple, who had such a tremendous motor that allowed him to play bigger than he was.”
Blair and Mace, who popped in a bunch of 3-pointers last year, are likely starters, along with Sollenberger. Two other players who Shreffler thinks will help a lot are senior Jayden Jones (6-1, G), who hasn’t played in the program since ninth grade, and Paris Banks (sr., 5-10), a transfer from Albany, N.Y., who could be the point guard.
“Banks played on a team that won a state championship last year, so he comes from a winning program,” Shreffler said. “He’ll give us a boost. Jayden might be a little behind in his basketball skills, but he’s a Commonwealth athlete — strong and competitive with physicality and explosiveness.”
Jacob Bassham (so., 5-10, PG) and Hunter Noel (sr., 6-2, G) are players who had good JV seasons a year ago and are expected to contribute. Also in the mix are four other juniors — Dru Bowling (5-9, G), Parker Knepper (5-8, G), Andon Martin (6-0, G) and Ian Stewart (6-0, G).
Shreffler said, “I like our depth. We took four days to do our tryouts to evaluate the talent, and I think we have a nice group of 15 players. The competition has been very good and 1 through 15 are pretty close. We will play some of them on JV so they get their minutes, but any of them could help the varsity.”
As it stands now, the Trojans’ first game will be Tuesday, Jan. 12 at home against Central Dauphin, which is one of the favorites to win the Commonwealth and District 3 this year. The Mid Penn moved both league games from the first week of January to the final week of the season, and Shippensburg has asked to move the game scheduled for this Saturday to a later date.
“The kids understand that things are fluid this year with everything going on,” Shreffler said. “We got in 15 practices before we had to take a break. During the break, guys did some lifting and running, we had a zoom meeting each week and they were able to watch film from last year.
“We’re just glad we’re getting a chance to play and we have to make the most of it.”
NOTES: Chambersburg currently has 15 games scheduled, plus games against Ship and Harrisburg to add … The limit is 18 games, and the Trojans are holding one game open in case they can line up a good opponent later in the season … The roster includes 6 seniors, 8 juniors and one sophomore … Varsity assistant coaches are Dennis Chamberlin and Kellen Williams … Shreffler’s overall record is 328-205.