The slogan for this season's Harford Tech's boys' basketball team is "Better Than Our Best," which is a fitting theme considering what the program has recently accomplished.
Harford Tech enjoyed its most successful campaign in the history of its program last season. The Cobras finished 19-6 and qualified for their third straight Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 2A East regional championship game. Unlike the previous two seasons, Harford Tech won the regional title, topping Parkside, 59-57, to win the program's first postseason championship.
Now, Harford Tech is looking to top its best season.
"I really think we've built a program where we aren't going to be a one-hit wonder," head coach Bill Jones said. "Last year was our best season ever, but this year we have eight returners, including four starters. Our JV is also doing really well and is 5-1 right now. We have a bright future, and I think we're at a point where Harford Tech basketball is going to have sustained success."
This season, after dropping their opener against Dundalk, the Cobras have won seven straight. The run includes a win against Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference rival Aberdeen, as well as victories against James M. Bennett and Archbishop Curley in the Governor's Challenge that saw Harford Tech win its bracket.
While Harford Tech expected to do well this season, some outside the program had doubts. The lone starter the Cobras graduated from last season's team was Darius Dangerfield, a four-year starting guard who scored the most career points for a public school player in Harford County history, with 1,800. Last season Dangerfield averaged 23.7 points per game. No other Harford Tech player averaged double-digit points.
The team has offset Dangerfield's departure by being more balanced with their scoring. The group effort has been led by a trio of guards who average just less than 13 points per game -- seniors Jordan Bright and Anthony Ifeacho, as well as junior Jalen Dangerfield, Darius's younger brother.
"Hearing we can't win because we don't have Darius anymore definitely motivates us a lot," Bright said. "We're just trying to prove that that isn't true, and we haven't heard it as much now that we've won seven straight."
One thing that hasn't changed for Harford Tech is its strategy on the court. Last season, Jones decided to implement an up-tempo style to take advantage of Harford Tech's plethora of talented athletes.
Jones wants his players to push the flow of the game to a frenetic pace throughout the entire contest. When Harford Tech gets a rebound on defense, it's the rebounder's job to get the ball in transition as quickly as possible so the opposing defense doesn't have time to get set. When the Cobras score, all five players are to immediately run to the opponent they're guarding to start the full court press straightaway to try and create a turnover.
It's a physically demanding style, but the players have proved to be more than up to the challenge. Jones said conditioning is a team priority in practice, which includes the players running with bricks in their hands a couple times a week.
The strategy has proved to be effective, as the Cobras average 69.4 points and 16.5 steals per game.
"I love playing with high energy. I think it makes other teams easier to beat," senior guard Adam Flenner said. "Once we get that rebound, I don't think they expect us to try to attack so quickly. It's a fun style to play, and it's an easy way to score lots of points."
To Jones, it's imperative the Cobras win as many games as possible during the regular season to obtain a good ranking for the postseason.
One section in Harford Tech's region is made up of Harford County and Cecil County schools, while the second is comprised of teams from the Eastern Shore. That means an away game in the regional final could be a three-hour venture, giving the home team a distinct advantage.
"Three hours on a bus makes it tough for your legs to be ready," Jones said. "We were ready to run in our gym last year for the regional final, and we definitely want to host it again. I think it would be a disservice to our guys to not say our ultimate goal is to win a state title. It'll be a tremendous challenge because there are so many talented teams in our region and across Maryland, but we think we can do it."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bill Jones