CRANFORD - There were ups and downs, but the Cranford High School boys basketball team looks to take the momentum of its second-half of the season into next year.
The Cougars opened up the year on a 3-0 run before dropping nine of the next 11 games. As head coach Sean Trotter continued to adjust lineups and game plans, Cranford was able to finish on a high note with an 8-3 run to close out the season at 13-12.
"It was a season of growth for us," said Trotter. "We struggled early on in the year. We were very young and just the experience of playing at the varsity level is a huge thing. The jump from other levels to varsity is huge and our team seemed to get used to it about half-way through the season. Then we gained patience as well. Basketball is a very fast-paced sport, and when you can slow it down for yourself and not rush, it makes the game much easier."
Cranford's late season push included making it to the Union County Tournament quarterfinals, something the program hadn't done since 2002. The Union County Tournament, which includes powerhouse programs such as The Patrick School, Roselle Catholic, and Linden, is regarded as one of the, if not the toughest boys basketball tournament in New Jersey.
"I always preach to them that our expectation is to make a run in the county and state tournament, and we did that in the county tournament and it was a fun atmosphere to be around," said Trotter. "The kids were confident and playing hard and it was an exciting time."
Through Trotter's first two seasons at the helm, he has led the Cougars to 24-24 overall, despite taking over a program that went 4-20 prior to his arrival.
"I have a great support system and group that I can talk to and have learned so much from, so everyday I am learning more and improving as a coach," said Trotter. "This is a sport that I have always been around and enjoyed, so the coaching was pretty natural for me, but I continue to learn and improve my craft because of the great current and former coaches that I have the privilege of being friends with."
The Cougars will graduate just two seniors in Cole Blazek and Dylan Mooney. Starters and key rotational players - Joe Carrea, Dennis DeMarino, Zion Hammond, Liam Kwiatkowski, Arjun Petgrave, and Lukas Ruby - will look to continue to build off the last two seasons.
"The atmosphere and excitement in the program is changing, which is exciting to be around and hopefully will continue," said Trotter.