West/South Xtra: Char Valley opens basketball season in Bahamas

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When the high school basketball season tips off Friday at gyms around Western Pennsylvania, teams and fans will don heavy jackets as they brave the wintry weather en route to games.

At just about the same time, Chartiers Valley might be applying another coat of sunscreen.

Long one of the WPIAL's premier programs, Chartiers Valley hopes a trip to the Bahamas will lead to a hot start and serve as the springboard to another outstanding season.

Coach Tim McConnell and his players, as well as assistant coaches and family members, departed Pittsburgh en route to Nassau, Bahamas -- a 1,000-mile flight each way -- Tuesday morning. Before they head home Sunday, they will have played games against teams from New York, Florida and Colorado.

The Colts have participated in tournaments in Florida, California, Texas and Las Vegas over the years, but this is the first time a McConnell-led team has gone international. The tournament, held at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, is being run by KSA Events, a company Chartiers Valley has worked with many times in the past.

"To go to the Bahamas, that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone," McConnell said.

Of course, the excursion is much more than a vacation. Chartiers Valley hopes to book a trip to the WPIAL championship game for the fourth time in five seasons at the end of February, so the Colts would like to find some early-season chemistry while returning to Collier Township with a few checks in the win column.

Chartiers Valley returns two starters from last year's team that went 24-5, won the Class AAA Section 5 title, finished as the WPIAL runner-up and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals.

The Colts graduated a pair of all-section players -- guard Michael Boulos and 6-foot-6 center Spencer Casson. Boulos (17.9 points per game) led the Colts in scoring and Casson averaged nearly a triple double.

McConnell will rely on an excellent group of guards to fill the basket. His son, junior Matty McConnell, and senior Haedyn Herzer are the returning starters. Another key member of the backcourt is senior point guard Jerrad Tuite, who missed nearly all of last season after sustaining a fractured kneecap in December.

Matty McConnell (15.8 ppg) was second on the team in scoring as a sophomore and made a team-high 72 3-pointers. McConnell also led the Colts with 3.8 steals per game.

"Matty [6-1] is one of our taller guys, so he's going to have to get in there and rebound, too," Tim McConnell said.

Herzer averaged 6.7 points and 2.8 steals per game. In four games, Tuite averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 assists.

Said Tim McConnell: "Jerrad got hurt last year, but he's an experienced guard. Matty has been on varsity for two years. Haedyn played the whole year last year. Our guard play is very experienced and we're going to need them to play well."

The newcomers to the starting five are senior guard Kyle Westover and sophomore forward Joe Antonucci. Sophomore guard Eddie Flohr will be one of the top players off the bench.

McConnell said that because of the graduation of Casson and Boulos, his team will have to win games a bit differently than his teams of the past few seasons had.

In Casson, McConnell had a post presence that he has rarely had in his tenure at Chartiers Valley. Casson was a rebounding machine and a difference-maker defensively. Boulos was an aggressive scorer and one of the most athletic players the Colts have had in recent years.

"I know one thing [that will be different this season]. We won't be as big," McConnell said. "We don't have the shot-blocker that Spencer was and we don't have Mike's athleticism. We're going to have to be faster and shoot a lot better, because it's going to be tougher for us to rebound."

One thing that remains constant for Chartiers Valley is winning. The Colts have won at least 20 games seven seasons in a row, capturing six section titles in that span.

The trip to the Bahamas is only the start for a Colts team that once again has big plans.

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