SEASON PREVIEW: KENNEDY CHRISTIAN
Given his druthers, Kennedy Christian High head coach Joe Votino prefers being the hunted rather than the hunter.
That's the reality when your club is one of Pennsylvania's premier programs and the 3-time reigning PIAA Class A champion.
"I don't have any problem with that, because that's just going to make us a better team,'' said Votino (394-131, entering his 19th year. "But people don't realize. The students are talking about going to Hershey and the parents are already talking about it, and it's really unfair to the kids because they really need to concentrate on one day at a time because we are not where we should be right now. ... We are not playing up to our capabilities right now.''
That's how high expectation levels rise when you have a handful of state championship banners hanging from the rafters and your clubs have won 24 consecutive postseason contests spanning three springs.
For the first time during his tenure, Votino had the Golden Eagles compete against AAU-caliber competition this fall. Included was a 105-85 demolition of Quad-A power Williamsport, as well as a tourney title against some of the New York-New Jersey area's best.
"It's not going to be tough to keep that competitive edge, but I think our fans need to back off our players a little bit. Everyone's expecting another trip to Hershey. They don't understand how difficult it is to get there, and the more you talk about it, the more pressure you put on these kids,'' Votino said. "I'm not saying (the Golden Eagles) can't handle it, because the teams in the past have handled it. But you're looking at a team that can make history: If we were to win this year, we would tie the state record (of four consecutive state titles) with Carlisle -- and I would love to do that, that is one of our goals -- but there's a time to talk about that, and it's not going to be until March.''
Kennedy, which is coming off a school-record 30-1 campaign -- the lone loss occurring to Class AAA state runner-up Blackhawk -- lost to graduation the school's all-time leading scorer, John Reimold (1,621), and all-time leading playmaker, Ryan McElhinny (600). However the cupboard is not exactly bare.
Included among the returnees is sinewy, 6-foot-4 senior sharpshooter Keenan Christiansen, 6-5 senior Gary Satterwhite -- who posted a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double in last year's 64-57 PIAA title tilt win over Bishop Hannan -- versatile Nolan Reimold, a 6-4 athletic junior who can play both inside and out, and 6-0 junior Danny McElhinny, who could run the point but is better versed a lethal, long-range marksman. Christiansen poured in 498 points last season -- including 96 treys -- while Satterwhite, Reimold and McElhinny contributed 187, 184 and 174, respectively.
With those four spots seemingly set, Votino was seeking a point guard. The AAU tourneys provided an opportunity for 6-0 freshman Sean Christiansen to audition for that role, although that had not been established as of press time. Until such time, several players will vye for the fifth starting spot, including seniors Nick George, a 6-1 forward; Tony Rossi, a 5-9 guard; a pair of 6-4 junior frontliners in Phil Doyle and Jason Bartnicki; juniors Kris Zinchiak and Cory Wittway, a 6-1 forward and 5-7 guard, respectively; sophomore newcomer Danny Harris, a 5-11 guard, and 5-10 sophomore guard Dustin Golub.
In the face of critics continually taking potshots at his program for electing not to play up in classification, Votino again upgraded his pre- and non-league season schedules.
"I think that remains to be seen. I don't know how they're going to react when the bell rings," Votino said. "They have responded very well in the summer and the fall against very good teams. But it's a lot different when the lights go on, so that's a big question mark.
"But we've dealt with that in the past and I'd rather it be that way than be on the other end, so you've just got to keep things in perspective; it's very important that you don't look ahead 'cause it could be very easy for us to look ahead with the competition we're playing.
"We need to concentrate on one day at a time and getting better as a team. If we don't do that, if we already think that we're a good basketball team because of the past, then it will not be as long a season as it should be. Hopefully, our kids in the back of their mind know that we're capable of doing that. As long as they put that in the back of their mind and stay focused on one day at a time, yeah, I think we're ready for the run.'' -- By Herald assistant sports editor Ed Farrell
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