Rough elementary years have paid off for the Indians

When the current Muncy high school athletes started playing basketball, few predicted championships would one day follow.

The elementary school years were particularly rough as Muncy struggled to win just a few games. A funny thing, though, happened between then and now.

Muncy became really good. And now this Muncy team has put itself among some of the best in program history, capturing a District 4 Class AA championship. Muncy, which meets Northwest in Saturday’s state tournament opener, defeated Northeast Bradford, 52-39 last Thursday, winning the program’s first district title since 2004 and just the fifth program history.

Times sure have changed.

“It all started in elementary school. If you told me we were going to win a district championship when I was in sixth grade I would have told you you were crazy,” senior point guard Nate Paisley said after scoring 18 points in the final. “We’ve improved so much since then. It was a lot of hard work we put in just to prepare ourselves for an opportunity like this in case we got one. It’s unbelievable.”

“Every single one of them has paid the price,” coach Jason Gresh said. “Every single one of them has worked their butts off. The camaraderie is unbelievable.”

Muncy won nine games two years ago, but made a big move in 2017 when it finished third in District 4, won the program’s first state tournament game since 2003 and came within a split second of advancing deeper. Paisley, senior forward Matt Coyner and junior guard Noah Rymsza returned to the starting lineup. Kolby Moyer shined as a first-time starter and Dylan Wilt continued building on the promise he showed as a freshman last season. Jordan Yaple, Levi Messenger and Kyle Lenhart have provided quality depth and a journey that started with some dark days nearly a decade ago has become something special.

Before the season began, Muncy adopted the motto, “all in, all together.” This is a team that has grown closer over the years. It has fought the battles together, suffered setbacks together, progressed together and climbed the district mountain together. Maybe that is what makes it feel so good.

“It’s definitely a tribute to them. These are my kids. I’m not going to get the move-ins and the transfers. This is what I have and we’re going to work together and stay together,” Gresh said. “That’s who we are. We are all in and we are all together. That’s how it it has to be. We have to fit those pieces together and fit some kids into what they need to be. Every piece fits.”

That was especially important after all-state guard Jeff Fry graduated last June. Fry was easily the team’s MVP last year and his departure left a gaping void. No one player could replace Fry, but together the team could continue moving upward. True to form, four players are averaging in double figures while playing unselfish basketball.

Four players have scored more than 20 points in a game and Muncy has done damage inside and outside. Players have embraced their roles and are playing their best at the perfect time. Muncy dethroned defending champion North Penn-Mansfield, 69-50, in the semifinals and led Northeast Bradford from start to finish last Thursday, with every starter scoring by late in the first quarter.

“We know players like Jeff don’t come around very often so we knew we needed multiple guys to show up and put in work this offseason,” Paisley said. “We have a great group of guys who came out this offseason. They worked hard in summer league and in the weight room. It shows here at the end of the season when your legs are dead. You just have to fight for those wins.”

“We’ve put in tremendous work with the coaches and they push us every single day in practice. We work till we want to puke,” Coyner said. “They push us and everyone works hard. We’re not a team where we just have one scorer. If I have an off night I know Paisley, or Rymsza or Moyer will be hitting shots. It’s a great feeling.”

Muncy put in a lot of time on the court this past offseason as well as in the weight room. Trainer Ken Hampe pushed the players the same way the coaches do and many have grown stronger and more explosive. It showed early when Muncy opened the season 7-0, its best start of the 2000s. Not everything went smoothly from there as Muncy experienced some ups and downs, including losing three of its last four regular-season games.

When it has meant the most, though, Muncy has been at its best. The Indians shook off a sluggish first-half against Mansfield, scoring 52 second-half points. They took Northeast Bradford’s best shots throughout the second half, but never buckled. Rymsza and Paisley both scored 18 points, Coyner recorded a double-double and Wilt played one of his best games. Lenhart relentlessly hounded leading scorer Zak Smith and every player contributed.

All the pieces came together again and the championship puzzle was solved.

It has been quite a climb since those elementary school days. As exciting as winning the district championship was, do not think Muncy is content. The Indians had a taste of state tournament success last year and would love some more this time. They know only one way to try and make that happen, too.

“There’s plenty of work to do,” Coyner said. “We just have to get in and keep practicing hard and work our butts off.”

That has become the Muncy way.