With a last-second coaching change there was a chance for things to go south quickly for the Deer Lakes boys basketball season.
But with a group of eight seniors including five starters there was a chance for things to go equally as well also.
So far the Lancers are on the move up and it has a lot less to do with a move from Class AAA to Class AA as it does with work ethic.
After one season coach Joe Lewandowski resigned in September for family reasons. By mid-October his assistant, Jon McKay, stepped in and by late December Deer Lakes was 6-2, 2-0 in Section 1-AA and one of the surprise stories of the young WPIAL season.
"There was a lot of potential for things to go wrong this year," McKay said. "We struggled early but to the kids credit, they really worked hard. These guys really did get after it."
That work ethic is perfectly personified with senior guard Tim Jaczesko. He missed most of last season after his left leg was broken two weeks before tryouts. He fought to return for the final five games of the season and led the team in scoring with 15 points per game. In the summer the same leg was broken playing AAU basketball. He was forced to undergo another surgery.
"That's when most guys would pack it in," McKay said.
Jaczesko did anything but.
He fought to return and is having as good a year as anyone in Class AA. Jaczesko is averaging 27.5 points per game. He is averaging four 3-pointers per game while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. He is also hitting 80 percent of his free throws and leading the team in steals and assists.
Colleges are starting to take notice of Jaczesko now.
"All the hard work is really paying off for Tim and he 100 percent deserves all the accolades he receives," McKay said.
Earlier this season against Aquinas Academy Jaczesko set the Deer Lakes single-game scoring record. He scored 45 to best the previous record of 44 and he did so only taking 23 shots and only playing two and a half quarters.
"I have a master's degree and I don't have the words to say how much he means to this team," McKay said. "It means so much to have your smartest player also be your hardest working player. He is one of those guys who just makes a coach look smart."
Jaczesko is surrounded by other seniors he grew up playing with. Senior forward J.J. Kowalkowski is a returning starter who is averaging 10 points and eight rebounds per game. Senior forward Cody Keenan is also a returning starter. Seniors Zach Bryner and Tim Cresta are both wing players and new to the starting rotation this year.
McKay described Kowalkowski, his tallest player, as being just a hair over 6 feet. So his team is small in terms of height but it has a much better chance of competing now in Class AA against similar-sized schools after struggling in Class AAA the past two seasons.
After reaching the playoffs in 2009-10, Deer Lakes went through back-to-back rough seasons the past two years, going 3-25 combined in section play, finishing 4-18 overall both seasons and placing last in their section.
The Lancers return to action today when they visit Apollo-Ridge.