The Middle School Boys basketball team (7-5) suffered a tough end to the season with their loss in the semi-finals against a first-seeded West Hills Christian (WHC) team 57-66. For the young Eagles team, the loss represented a sad end to a terrific season so far.
Despite a notable height disadvantage and the final score, the Eagles actually led 33-29 going into half time, and were up by 2 with five minutes remaining. “It felt good to be in a close game,” said Jasper Gordon ’17, starting shooting guard for the Eagles. “Our defensive traps were working well and we were slowing down their offense.” However, the Eagles’ attempts to slow down WHC, combined with the aggressive WHC defensive approach, led to many Eagle fouls and turnovers. This created a wider margin of victory for WHC.
As the game drew to a close, and WHC’s score increased, the Eagles’ began to watch their championship hopes disappear. As Gordon explains, “at halftime we got a taste of victory, but to see it all crumble away, especially in the final 30 seconds, it was tough to realize that our season was over.” Even if the end result was not what the team wanted, they still accomplished a lot over the course of the 2012-13 season.
Three 8th grade co-captains led the Eagles this year: Mo Allen (point guard), Andrew Park (forward), and Coleman Sherry. The triad’s leadership did not go unnoticed by teammates. Said Gordon, “our team is much smaller than what they were used to last year, and they have adjusted to our new strengths to truly lead this team.”
All team members that I interviewed cited a recent 92-46 win over Riverdale as their best win of the season. “Almost everyone on the team scored,” Gordon explained. “The victory came without our star post Coleman…and allowed coach Deonte Huff to really utilize our bench, and give many more opportunities.”
The Eagles used lessons from this earlier win to prepare for their semifinal. Park described how in the Riverdale game, “we played intensely on both ends of the floors…if we [wanted] to win the semifinals, we [had] to play seriously from start to finish.” This mantra was clearly on display on Tuesday as the Eagles painstakingly fought in a close game until the very end.
Entering Tuesday’s game, the Eagles also placed emphasis on improving the weakest part of their game: rebounding. “We are a very small team filled with mostly guards and small forwards,” explained Gordon.
His sentiments were echoed by Coach Huff, who added, “the turnovers are because sometimes we don’t make the simple play, but it’s gotten better over the season.” However, the progress made throughout the year seemed to disappear on Tuesday as the Eagles turned over the ball frequently, especially in the final quarter. “Some of that was because we were nervous,” Gordon explained. “But it was also because of how aggressively they played on defense.”
The Eagles was comprised of about half 8th graders and half 7th graders, a composition that led to a change in strategy this season. “Our tactics have switched towards a more speed based offense, which has worked surprisingly well,” said Gordon.
The large number of younger players should also add to the team’s success next season, when all five starters will graduate (Alan, Gordon, Park, Sherry, and Sahil Nerukar). Their shoes will be filled by a strong core of 7th graders, including Isaac Baker, Fritz Frerichs, Rowan Hoffman, and Ethan Stahl.
In preparing for the championship, the Eagles maintained an important goal that stuck with them throughout the season: having fun. Said coach Huff, “we are a bit goofy and it’s a lot of fun and it’s easier to coach a team that’s a lot of fun.”
It is clear that great team spirit resulted in many wins this year. Huff added that “[the players] have a great bond with each other because they all hang out together and they are each others’ best friends so it transfers to the court and everyone is on the same page.”
Even though the fun-loving and skilled Eagles’ season ended on a bad note, it’s hard to argue that the season was without success. This team worked very hard to reach the semifinals, and will likely produce many quality players for the Upper School team. In the words of Gordon, “we’re just looking to go out there and show that we earned our place, and that we will fight for our eagle pride.”