Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
Unionville’s Coles making mark on sidelines
EAST MARLBOROUGH >> He doesn’t talk much, and there is absolutely no politicking on his own behalf. But it is just understood that Unionville’s Chris Cowles is, perhaps, the premier head basketball coach in the Ches-Mont league. And he is certainly one of the more respected mentors in all of District 1. With little fanfare and even less star power, Cowles, 32, has molded the Longhorns into a championship program. Unionville is the reigning Ches-Mont American champions, and on Saturday his team will play for the District 1 Class 5A title.
“There are so many things that make Chris successful,” said former Unionville football coach Pat Clark, who was previously a coach on Cowles’ staff. “He is prepared -- as prepared as I have ever seen any coach in any sport.
“He breaks down opponents, formulates really good game plans, and most importantly gets kids to execute. It’s really centered around maximizing player potential and giving consistently great effort in order to be successful.”
The third-seeded Longhorns (22-4 overall) will have to find a way to beat 26-0 and top-seeded Radnor to win the district title, to be held at Temple’s Liacouras Center, 2 p.m. It’s been done two other times at Unionville, but not since 1981. And the other was all the way back in 1955.
“Radnor is really good, and they have that record for a reason,” Cowles said. “They are another team that has many guys who can play well on any given game.”
And the Longhorns have already qualified for the PIAA Tournament for the second time under Cowles. The team was still alive in the 2020 state quarterfinal round when the pandemic forced cancellation of the PIAA Tournament.
Through superior teamwork and maximum effort – more on
that later -- Unionville has a bunch of seemingly interchangeable pieces that work together as a unit that is far better than the sum of its parts. The Longhorns have good, solid high school players, but there are no stars. Any one of about seven different players could be the squad’s standout on any given day.
“After games, people will say: ‘It was a different guy tonight,’” Cowles acknowledged. “Well, yeah. It’s because we have talented guys that play unselfishly and are committed. That’s why we’ve had success.”
This is, in many ways, the perfect type of roster for a no-nonsense coach like Cowles. He preaches maximum everything: effort, execution and unselfishness.
“I always seem to say the same thing but we just talk about staying in the moment, doing our jobs with maximum effort and the results will come,” Cowles said. “Not having COVID restrictions in the offseason helped us a lot as far as getting back to our normal stuff. I think it’s shown this season.”
In year six at Unionville,
Cowles has built the program into a top-tier boys’ basketball school. He was the head coach at West Chester East for two seasons before that in his mid20s.
The Longhorns have been to the Ches-Mont Final in three of the last four years. And just earning a berth in the four-team playoff means that his team routinely finishes among the top two in the C-M American.
The ‘Horns have also become a mainstay in districts. This would be Unionville’s fifth straight year if not for an injury a year ago to standout Kevin Nowoswiat. He now plays at college ball at Franklin & Marshall.
“We missed districts last year by .03 points,” Cowles recalled. “Kevin missed 16 of our 22 games.”
The maximum effort mantra is not just from his player, but also from himself and his coaching staff. Cowles says it so often, it’s to the point of monotony – but it obviously works because the program as a whole is completely bought in.
“Chris has expectations and holds everyone accountable to them, starting with himself,” Clark said. “He cares about kids. He spends time building relationships throughout the year, is honest and open with players, and helps them to grow as players and people.
“There is such a strong and positive culture right now with our basketball program.”
The team motto for a number of years is: ‘Max Out.’ Of course it is. And it means more to the ’Horns than just something to say coming out of a huddle.
“Chris does a great job getting his team prepared for games,” said West Chester East head coach Tom Durant. “His players go hard and they compete at a high level.”
Cowles added: “We talk about our principles ad nauseum every day.
“Ideally, you want your players to love playing basketball with each other. If you are playing with effort, you become accountable and trustworthy. It’s like in life: you love the people you trust the most, like your parents or your siblings.
“That’s kind of what you want to create on a team.”
The heart of the 202223 Longhorns is a six-person junior class – including guards J.T. Anderson, Ryan Brown and Charlie Kammeier, and 6-foot-6 forward Nick Diehl, who has committed to play Division I baseball at Tulane. And then there is freshman James Brenner, who could develop into a star and plays beyond his years – which is 15 years.
A pair of senior guards – George Napolitano and Robbie Logan – are important cogs, and the only players in the core rotation who won’t be around next season. But Cowles also values other seniors like Kevin Carson, Chris Ash and Quintan Boyle.
“Our senior class provides a lot of the juice for us,” Cowles said. “This group has some great personalities and they hold the younger guys accountable.”
It raises a question, however, that Cowles would rather not ponder at this point in a postseason run: how good could Unionville be next season?
“We haven’t really thought about next season, but we will definitely miss our seniors,” he said. “But it is nice to have a lot of returners because it’s always easier to get good faster.”