Experienced Highlands boys counting on defense to lead them on another playoff run

Sunday, November 20, 2022 | 4:33 PM

Jimmy Kunst takes defense personally. The senior point guard for the Highlands basketball team knows his teammates feel the same way.

Expect Kunst and his teammates to hit the floor, either to draw charges or grab loose balls.

Entering a season with high expectations means the Golden Rams will need to keep the intensity high.

“Everyone buys in on defense,” said Kunst, who is an Eastern Michigan baseball recruit. “Everyone works together and takes these matchups personally. That’s where we can press teams and overwhelm them.”

The Golden Rams, who will host Burrell on Dec. 2 to open the season, have six of their top eight players returning from last season. Highlands, which finished 19-8, reached the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals and second round of the PIAA playoffs before being eliminated both times by Laurel Highlands.

The Golden Rams will be looking to make a big splash in Section 1-4A, which will feature Freeport, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Indiana and Knoch.

“We have some high expectations,” Golden Rams coach Corey Dotchin said. “Every year we map out our goals, which starts with winning a section championship to put us in a good position for seeding in the playoffs.”

Kunst, who averaged 20.9 points and is a 1,000-point scorer, will help drive Highlands’ offense. He will be supported by 6-foot-4 senior forward Chandler Thimons, 6-8 junior forward Bradyn Foster, 6-0 junior guard Cam Reigard and 6-3 senior forward Landan Signorella.

Leading an offense where everyone is familiar with each other makes life easier for Kunst.

“We’ve always worked with each other at practices, and it feels like we are at the park playing with each other,” Kunst said. “We know how each other plays. We know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. I know when I drive to the middle where people are going to be at all times.”

Most importantly, Highlands’ experience is more than just having upperclassmen on the roster. In the postseason, these Golden Rams have been battle-tested. The seniors were part of a WPIAL championship team as freshmen. Highlands also has a solid plan to integrate its multisport athletes, as the Golden Rams had a number of players who also play football.

“It definitely takes a couple of weeks to get the bumps and bruises out,” Thimons said. “The coaches make it easy for everyone to transition back into. We take it easy for the first couple of weeks. It happens every year. We have to give credit to the coaches who take care of us and make sure we are 100 percent recovered.”

What is most important for Highlands is to get ready for the postseason. With a group as experienced and deep as Highlands, the Golden Rams will need to find the energy to make a sustained run in the playoffs.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Dotchin said. “These guys know what it takes to get there. We’re definitely hungry, and these guys are motivated. They’ve played in a ton of games in the offseason as a whole. Between summer and fall leagues, they’ve played in close to 50 or 60 games.”

Highlands boys at a glance

Coach: Corey Dotchin

Last year’s record: 19-8 (10-2 Section 4-5A)

Returning starters: Jimmy Kunst (Sr., PG), Chandler Thimons (Sr., F), Cam Reigard (Jr., G), Bradyn Foster (Jr., F)

Top newcomers: Ali Shareef (So., G)


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