Around the A-K Valley, sophomores are playing big roles

Saturday, January 11, 2020 | 6:50 PM

Successful high school teams often rely on older players, normally seniors or juniors, to lead, play primary roles and help the group reach its maximum potential.

That’s normally the case. But sometimes teams come along that rely on a young player or even a young core to carry them.

This season, in the A-K Valley, the latter seems to be the case as a few sophomores are making a name for themselves while playing significant roles in their teams’ hot starts.

Fox Chapel boys basketball coach Zach Skrinjar finds himself with a group of young players playing significant minutes. Sophomores Eli Yofan, JP Dockey and Lorenzo Jenkins have worked their way into the rotation and helped the Foxes get off to a 12-0, 4-0 start.

Recently, their roles have grown even more with injuries to seniors Arnold Vento and Sam Brown.

“These are all hardworking kids. They are very unselfish. They are all very coachable, and they defend well,” Skrinjar said. “They aren’t always going to do things exactly right because they aren’t perfect. But they really work their butt off, and we have faith in them.”

They have leaned on different experiences to succeed. Yofan leans on his experience as a starter last season, which helped him transition into a primary scorer. As a sharpshooter, Dockey knew he had to expand his game to succeed at the varsity level.

“I wanted to be a much bigger offensive threat this year,” Dockey said. “At the beginning of the season I wasn’t getting as many shots, but the last couple games, I’ve put up better numbers and I’ve been much happier. It makes me a lot harder to guard, and it helps our team out.”

As a freshman, Yofan was the starting point guard and played a role that allowed him to fly under the radar while still adjusting to varsity. But this season, the 6-foot sophomore has stood out as one of Fox Chapel’s best defenders, top scorers and momentum swingers.

Skrinjar said at least once a game Yofan will make a string of two or three plays that completely changes the momentum in favor of Fox Chapel. Against Penn-Trafford on Friday, Yofan made a steal at halfcourt and threw it down for a breakaway dunk at the other end to expand a lead.

Whether it’s on defense or offense, Yofan said even though he’s young, he’s looking to make an impact.

“Last year, I was trying to get other people the ball and get them shots,” Yofan said. “But now I’m seeing the ball more and scoring more than I did last year. It’s a lot different for me this year.”

Jenkins has played valuable minutes for the Foxes and given Skrinjar a valuable asset off the bench.

The Foxes aren’t the only team that has benefited from younger players playing well.

Since finding his way into the rotation last year for Knoch, Ryan Lang has played a large role in the Knights’ success. On Tuesday, he led the team with a career-high 26 points as it knocked off No. 1 Highlands, 74-69.

On Friday against Derry, Lang matched that total as the Knights dropped 91 on the Trojans for their ninth straight win.

“He’s been huge, and it’s not a surprise,” Knoch coach Ron McNabb said. “I had him in math during sixth grade, and he was a good player then. Then I also own that Pittsburgh Basketball Academy down at the Mills, and he’s down there all the time and he works out with some of the college kids I work with. He loves the game, he loves to compete and he has a knack to score.”

While some younger players might crumble in big situations, Lang has thrived in them. Tuesday was another example of that.

“I live for those moments,” Lang said. “Those are the best moments. As a team, we play well in them and that’s what we live for.”

But as with Yofan, Dockey and Jenkins, Lang had to improve a few things. For him, the most important part was progressing as a defender.

“I needed to get quicker, faster stronger in order to play defense and help my team win,” Lang said.

While the sophomores have found ways to improve, they also have had to prove themselves to the upperclassmen.

At Fox Chapel, they have done it as a group. At Knoch, Lang forced himself into the rotation as a freshman. He earned the respect of his peers with his play and has solidified the lineup during a 9-1, 4-0 start, with the only loss coming in the season opener against Youngstown Chaney (Ohio).

“The credit goes to our seniors because he (Lang) doesn’t have this pressure on him where he has to score,” McNabb said. “He’s got four other people around him, and it’s hard for teams to focus on any one of them. But the guys have accepted him. They know he’s good, and they love playing with him.”

Other sophomores around the A-K Valley playing major roles include Kyrell Hutcherson (Kiski Area) and Eli Rich (Leechburg). Logan Dexter and Ryan Reinsfelder have played big minutes for Springdale during its historic 12-1, 6-0 start.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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