South Xtra: Prexies enjoying excellent opening to season

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In every classification there seems to emerge different tiers of teams.

* There are the serious title contenders year in and year out.

* There are teams that fly under the radar that will usually make it to the playoffs but are not a serious threat to win the championship.

* Then there are the teams striving to get better and can surprise anyone on any given night.

At least for now, it would appear that the Washington boys basketball team falls into the middle tier in Class AA. The Little Prexies have made it to the WPIAL playoffs the past two years but were knocked out on those two occasions in the preliminary round and first round, respectively.

Last year the Little Prexies finished second in Section 4-AA to Seton-La Salle with an 8-4 record, 17-7 overall. Last year's squad was led by senior Josh Wise. Wise led the section in scoring with a 22-points-per-game average.

"Anytime you lose a player with his ability it is tough," head coach Mark Gaither said. "A lot of our offense naturally went through him. We don't have a player like that so we are counting on different guys. It is a total team approach."

Even without last year's leading scorer, Gaither believes this year's team has a chance to be one of his deepest and best. Leading the way are seniors Dupree Jenkins, a 6-foot guard, and Quorteze Levy, a 6-1 forward.

Jenkins is the lone returning starter and Levy is a key starter this season after coming off the bench last year. So far, they have led the Prexies (6-1, 3-0) to a strong start to the season.

"Those are two of our senior leaders," Gaither said. "Dupree was all-section and was our one returning starter. When we need a bucket or someone to get everybody under control, that's' him."

"Levy was a key player last year. He is our all-everything guy. Always brings energy and enthusiasm. Does all the little things that make teams great."

Also looking to make contributions for the Little Prexies are 6-foot-3 sophomore Nate Swart and 6-2 junior DeQual Isbell.

Swart reached double figures in the first three games this season and Isbell led Washington to their first section win on Dec. 13 against Bishop Canevin, 58-47, with a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double.

"That was big," Gaither said. "It's a tough place to play. It was a tough game. Anything can happen in section games. To get the first one -- a road win -- under our belt is a feather in our caps."

Washington will have a plethora of options at point guard with Jon Spina, Jordan West, Del Bredniak and Matt Popeck splitting time. Spina and West were the starting quarterback and running back on the football team, respectively.

"At a school like Washington we share our athletes because we are a little bit smaller," Gaither said. "It is nice to have those football guys who are used to winning. It carries over onto the hardwood."

That's exactly what Washington has done thus far this year. The Little Prexies started the season winning the Canon-McMillan tournament title for the second consecutive year, defeating a pair of Class AAAA teams in Trinity and Canon-Mac.

"That was a big boost," Gaither said. "We won it last year with a different group of guys and in different fashion. That really gave us a lot of confidence going into our section winning against two Class AAAA programs."

Like all team goals at the beginning of the season, the Little Prexies are looking to win a section title, but knows they will have to go through Seton-La Salle to do so.

"They are the favorite," Gaither said. "They are a great team. Our goal is to compete for the section and WPIAL titles. We really believe in our guys and what we are doing.

"If we do the little things and do what we do we, can beat anyone. We hope that it comes down between the two of us."

The Little Prexies and Rebels will meet for the first time at Seton-LaSalle on Jan. 7.

As for what would be considered a successful season for the Little Prexies, Gaither and company couldn't ask for more right now than to be in position to compete for a title.

"Obviously a lot of that is measured by wins and losses and championships," Gaither said. "We want to be in the position to compete for a section and WPIAL title. If we continue to stick together and work hard, it is going to be a special season."

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