MILLERSTOWN - In certain regards, this year's Greenwood boys basketball season didn't look like years past.
After five-straight Tri-Valley League championships, the Wildcats were pushed out by East Juniata for the title. The one-two punch was then completed in the District 3 Class A tournament when the Wildcats finished fourth in the tournament, failing to make a sixth-straight trip to the championship game.
But for all the differences, one thing about Greenwood is certainly the same - the Wildcats are headed to the state tournament.
Greenwood (18-7) will face District 4 champion St. John Neumann (27-0) today at Williamsport High School in the first round of the state tournament, and Greenwood coach Kent Houser is confident in his team's preparation.
"I thought today we had a good practice, and the kids were loose. I think we're going to be ready to go," the veteran coach explained.
In fact, with over 20 years coaching from Houser and several players on the team who have seen state tournament action before, postseason experience is one factor that could work in Greenwood's favor.
"I think the kids know what to expect and they've been here before. Most of them - even if they haven't played - they've been along for the ride," Houser said.
Returning starters Adam Harrison, Tyler Fegley and Nick Kerstetter are three of those players who have had time on the floor during the postseason. The three were all part of Greenwood's run to the state tournament last season, which ended with a first-round loss to Sullivan County.
In terms of specific skills, Harrison is the team's top scorer with an average of 10.8 points per game during league action. He and Fegley also offer key components of the defense, as Fegley notched 35 steals during league action and Harrison recorded 19 blocks.
"Our emphasis is always on what we do as a team. We just want to go out as a team and play really hard," Houser said, explaining that although Harrison, Fegley and Kerstetter provide the experience, success ultimately comes down to what the team does as a whole. Just the same, the veterans are expected to provide leadership.
"Obviously our more experienced players have to set the tone," Houser said.
On the opposite end of the court, St. John Neumann also has some experience of its own to offer.
With three seniors and a junior in its typical starting lineup, St. John Neumann finds its biggest threat in Alize Johnson, who averages 24.0 points per game. The Golden Knights have also made it to the second round of states the past two years, so they also know what postseason play looks like.
Considering Johnson's offensive threat - coupled with an average of 12.1 points per game from point guard Richard Allen - Greenwood will need to rely on its defense to keep the Golden Knights at bay.
"We're just going to get what we think are our best matchups and we expect our kids to do a good job out there defending," Houser said, explaining that help defense will be key in keeping track of Johnson.
The Wildcats and Golden Knights have only met once before, and many years ago at that, so St. John Neumann is what Houser called "Not a team we're used to seeing."
Just the same, with their 27-0 record and a district title under their belts, the Golden Knights are coming into the tournament with plenty of momentum. Houser, however, doesn't see that as a threat.
"I don't really know how important that is. I think certainly they probably have confidence with that record, but I think that record probably also brings some pressure with it," he explained.
Today's tipoff set for 7 p.m., and regardless of the Wildcats' more difficult path to the state tournament this year as compared to the past, Houser said the team is ready to go.
"They understand that record really means nothing (today)," he said. "In the big picture, everybody's 0-0."