Elk Lake seniors honored as team clinches Division IV title
BY JOBY FAWCETT
Times Shamrock Writer
It began in an empty gym eight years ago. Five boys learning the game on lowered hoops built a brotherhood in basketball.
They set out to seek glory on the hardwoods, and through hard work and dedication they have achieved their goal.
On Tuesday, it came time to salute those gritty athletes, who as seniors have added to the proud basketball tradition at Elk Lake High School.
Tanner Reyan, Matt Woolcock, Tyler Arnold, Nick Dudock and Pete McGee, and their parents were honored in an emotional pre-game ceremony. Then, they went out and beat Susquehanna, 57-38, to wrap up a second straight Lackawanna Division IV championship and another 20-win season.
“You have to step back and enjoy this,” Elk Lake coach John Warnero said.
“Sometimes you get caught up in trying to win a championship that you forget these are kids who are always working their butts off and they will sell out for themselves, for their teammates, for their school.
“It’s something that I am so blessed to have been a part of these last two years and the credit goes to those kids and their parents.”
In the lobby just outside the gymnasium there are five photo displays, one of each senior. They take fans on a journey from when the boys began playing together as teammates in fourth grade.
On each, there are numerous candids of the five friends doing various activities both on and off the basketball court. Those photos indicate that they are indeed inseparable.
“We are best friends,” Reyan said. “That’s what we knew could lead to our success.”
Even at an early age, this group had a special bond. They won games, even though the scores rarely mattered. They were on the good side of the ledger almost every time they competed.
That sparked an idea for them.
If they could stay on track and never lose sight of the goal, there was no limit to what they could achieve.
By the time they were juniors, there was no holding back.
They were focused. Reyan, Arnold, Woolcock and McGee all started and teamed with Rob Heft, while Dudock came off the bench.
It was the start of something special.
“I have been with these guys since fourth grade and we just knew,” McGee said.
“These guys have always been positive at practice and always so supportive. We worked together and we helped each other through the good times and the bad times, and I will always have these memories.”
Driven by a desire to prove that out in the surrounding areas of Northeast Pennsylvania, the kids could play the game.
And they could play at a high level.
The Warriors rose to the top of the Division IV standings in 2012-13. They battled rival Montrose and won the division crown they coveted in a playoff game.
But there was more to prove.
That came in the District 2 Class AA playoffs where doubters were silenced after a pair of wins put them into the final four. Once there, though, they ran into eventual state runner-up Holy Cross, then lost in the third-place game to their nemesis, Mid Valley.
Still, it was then that they began to truly believe.
“Even though we were winning games, I don’t think people really believed we were good until the playoffs last season,” Reyan said. “We made it into the second round for the first time in a long time and then got through the second round. People in the community started to talk.
“So we really put in the hard work to make sure that we fulfilled those expectations.”
On basketball nights, the Elk Lake community fills the cozy gymnasium. The walls tell the story of this tradition with banners that recognize past state champions and 1,000-point scorers, including Bob Stevenson, one of the state’s all-time greats.
Throughout this season, the Warriors regenerated a buzz, reeling off 19 straight wins to start the season before hitting a speed bump against Mid Valley on Monday night.
That clash of state-ranked teams may have taken a little emotion out of the tank for Elk Lake a day later. And they were also coping with the loss of a teammate as Arnold is battling an ailing knee, but in a move that defined the closeness of this group, he still found a way to start the game.
“This means the world to me, because I have played with these guys for so long,” Arnold said. “They showed how much they care for me with how they played.
“That is special to see.”
They played with energy. They played with little to no regard for their bodies, earning scrapes and bruises from the floor of the Mike “Red” Wallace court.
They played with pride in the name across the front of their jerseys.
When the Warriors received the challenge they expected from Susquehanna, which also played with an equally impressive fighting spirit and got 15 points from Brandon Soden, the veterans called upon that promise they made so long ago, to never give in and to always play together.
“We came out and knew we wanted this championship,” said Woolcock, who struggled to find his normally deadly outside shot, scoring only two points, but contributed five rebounds. “The nice thing is that we always have somebody who has your back. That is what a team is all about and that is a great thing about these guys.”
With a renewed fire, Dudock scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half. Reyan had 10 of his 20 and finished with eight assists and five steals.
McGee had seven rebounds and the title was there’s to celebrate.
“We could not lose this game,” Dudock said. “We had to win this for Tyler.
It was Senior Night and he couldn’t play and that hurt me. We just tried to play our best for everybody and for Tyler.
“But it hasn’t sunk in yet, because there is more basketball to be played.”
On the night reserved for them and their achievements, the starting five also showed how much the program that they have given so much to means to them.
They included Ben Kwader, the team manager, in the starting lineup announcements, much like they did a couple of years ago, honoring Billy Guenter, who now volunteers as a coach.
Proving that this team has become so much more during two seasons that have brought 40 wins overall and a record of 23-1 in Division IV play.
It is a family.
“With Billy coming back and reminding us how much that night meant to him, we have to continue that here,” Warnero said. “And for these guys, who have enjoyed those moments night-in and night-out since fourth grade, to share that with Ben and telling him thank you is so important to me and shows how great this team is.
“And how special they are to me.”