Tight group of juniors the heart of Palmyra High School boys basketball

The Panthers expect to have greater success in 2017–18 with a core group of junior players who got a full-year of experience as sophomores last season.

Palmyra High School’s Faraji Robinson works his way around a defender during a game against Gloucester Catholic High School on Jan. 2.

The building blocks for Palmyra High School boys basketball’s 2017–18 roster were established one year ago.

In the 2016–17 season, the Panthers went with a young starting lineup featuring four sophomores. Even with a bunch of first-year varsity players, the Panthers won 11 games last year and nearly pulled off an upset in the first round of the South Jersey Group I playoffs, where they lost on the road against Pitman High School by one point.

“Those kids worked really hard the summer before, they earned that spot,” head coach Brian Harding said. “That’s where a full year of experience playing on varsity for sophomores goes a long way.”

Last year’s sophomore core for Palmyra now has a year of experience under their belts and, as juniors, have high expectations for the 2017–18 season.

The team began building for this year in the summer, where the team played around 20 games at multiple summer camps and tournaments. The team won more than half of their games over the summer.

“It starts to give guys confidence that they can play with anybody,” Harding said.

Two players from Palmyra’s junior core will serve as captains this year. Gio Nahrwald and Faraji Robinson are being called upon to lead the Panthers this year after they each showcased a strong work ethic last year.

“They set the tone for everything as far as leadership goes and hustle,” Harding said.

Nahrwald expressed a lot of optimism about the team after the way last season ended and how well the team played together over the summer.

“We were a little timid last year, a little younger,” Nahrwald said. “Now we’re experienced, we all know what we’re doing and have a sense of how to play, how to score and work together.”

Robinson has been tabbed as Palmyra’s point guard this season and will be charged with running the offense. To prepare, he worked on a number of aspects of his game in the offseason.

“I’ve improved on my handles a little bit,” Robinson said. “In the offseason, I worked on my shot, so during the season, I’m hoping to get better.”

Off the court, Nahrwald and Robinson have both tried to promote the team-first mentality Harding has preached to his team. The Panthers showed how tight they were in the summer prior to leaving for a basketball camp at Albright College. When one member of the team said he didn’t have enough money to attend the camp, the team help him raise the money to attend.

Harding said this year’s team is tighter than any he’s coached in the past few years.

“These guys buy into what we’re doing,” he said. “We talk about establishing a culture. It’s all about us. It’s all about ‘we’ guys instead of ‘me’ guys.”

Robinson and Nahrwald have grown into their new roles as captains and are embracing what it takes to be a leader.

“(We) keep everyone on track and be a role model,” Robinson said. “Everybody works together.”

Palmyra has set lofty goals for the upcoming season. The team hopes to compete for the Burlington County Scholastic League Freedom Division championship and qualify as one of the top seeds in the South Jersey Group I playoffs.

While the junior core of this team has two years left to bring a championship to Palmyra, Harding said this year’s team is ready to win this year.

“We talk about now,” he said. “We talk about winning today, and we talk a lot about toughness.”

Palmyra has started the 2017–18 season with a record of 3–4, including two wins at the Spartan Holiday Classic at Doane Academy over winter break.