In a boys' basketball program that has enjoyed considerable success over the years, Conestoga had one of its best seasons last year. Mike Troy guided the Pioneers to a 27-4 record and a Central League championship in his third season.

They finished in third place in the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs and reached the sweet 16 of the PIAA playoffs before losing to District 11 champion Parkland, 56-49.

Troy lost 10 members of that team to graduation, but he said the Pioneers should be in a position to challenge for the Central League crown again. The key will be number of players who were members of a successful junior varsity team.

"I think we could be in contention for the league because we have a group who played together last year," Troy said. "They gained enough experience that we should be able to make a run."

Although the Pioneers lost some height, they are not bereft of it, thanks to senior Austin Smith, who checks in at 6-foot-5, and juniors Dexter Bridges and Harry Biemer, both 6-3.

"We're a different team than last year - a lot of different styles, but I think we have the possibility to win the league championship again," said Smith, who has committed to play baseball for Rhode Island.

"If we can pull all the talent together we'll be all right." A righthander, Smith is one of four Division I prospects from the baseball team.

Guards John Marshall, John Hamer, and Tanner Scott are also being counted on heavily by Troy, who expects Marshall to run the show for the Pioneers.

"Marshall's a good leader," Troy said.

Marshall said he expects the Pioneers to surprise a lot of people this season. He feels the team has the personnel to challenge for the league title.

"Last season we focused on slowing down the pace, using half-court sets," Marshall said. "This season we want to do a lot more running. We may have lost some height but we have more speed than last year."

Conestoga opens its season tomorrow night in a tip-off tournament at Plymouth Whitemarsh against Neshaminy of the Suburban One League. Also in the tourney are Central Bucks South and the host school. The Colonials should be one of the top teams in the area. Conestoga won the tourney last season.

Troy expects it to be a good test for his Pioneers, who jump into league play Tuesday against Haverford. They have three more league games, against Ridley, Lower Merion and Penncrest, before a holiday break. Both the Green Raiders and Aces are expected to be contenders for the Central crown.

"Ridley is always good," Smith said. "They have great coaching. And Ridley will be tough with Cameron Gunter. We'll have to be at our best early."

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 267-815-0733