By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
At the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes varsity boys’ basketball coach Mike Jones and his team wrote down their goals for the season.
The list was full of lofty aspirations. Win the Sleepy Thompson Boys Basketball Tournament, win the Interstate Athletic Conference tournament, become state champions. The only differ- ence is, this year, the Saints have been checking off most things on that list.
In December, the Saints swept through the Sleepy Thompson tournament. They have a first round bye in the IAC tournament. The team is now 20-3 and has only lost one game since December: its narrow three-point loss to Georgetown Prep on Feb. 8.
“We accomplished every single thing we set out to thus far,” Jones said. “So we just want to continue to work hard toward the IAC and Virginia state tournament as well.”
The Saints are currently ranked first in their division, second in the state and 39th in the nation. However, despite their success, no one is taking anything for granted.
“Our motto is ‘Take it one game at a time,’” Jones said. “The separation is in the preparation, so each day we try to prepare and move forward. We take it one game at a time and prepare for that particular game.”
The Saints’ methodical approach to the season has helped them stay one step ahead of the competition and keep their eyes on the prize.
“We all have one common goal,” captain and power forward Charles Thompson said. “We understand that 20-3 is really good, but that’s not what we’re work- ing toward. We’re working toward a championship.”
Off the court, Jones and the players are constantly reviewing scouting reports for each team they play against. Success is never guaranteed, so, for Jones, practices are all about working on “the little things” that can make or break a game.
“We want to be great at the little things,” Jones said. “Working together, communicating, blocking out, making the extra pass, turning down a good shot for a great shot.”
The Saints have done more than just execute on “the little things.” This season, the team has made a name for itself with its unselfish style of basketball, its fast, disruptive defense and a surprisingly deep roster.
According to Jones, the team is averaging around 20 assists per game. That statistic has as much to do with players’ willingness to pass the ball as it does the amount of hands touching the ball.
“We try to play as hard as we can every second we’re on the floor, and we go pretty deep,” Thompson said. “It’s not just six or seven people. Everybody gets to play, and everybody gets to show what they’re able to do.”
The Saints’ success this season has brought a whole new level of energy to the games and the school. Students and teachers are turning out like never before to basketball games, Thompson said, and students are even talking about the games in class. The energy around the team has always been there, but this season things feel different, he said.
“There’s always been a similar level [of energy] for basketball, but that’s always been for our first tournament,” Thompson said. “Now the hype for bas- ketball is going throughout the whole entire year.”
While the team’s momentum was slowed slightly by last week’s loss to Georgetown Prep, the Saints are taking it in stride.
“I definitely think this loss Friday night humbled us for sure,” captain and shooting guard Christian DePollar said. “It just shows us that we still have a lot of work to do. We haven’t done what we set out to do yet.”
Depending on their performance in the IAC tournament this week and the statewide-Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament at the end of February, the Saints have at least six games remaining this season.
As the season winds down, Jones and the SSSAS players are intent on running all the way across the finish line.
“I just think we have to focus. Don’t get too excited about anything we’ve done so far this season,” DePollar said. “I know we still have a couple weeks left, so we just have to go hard and finish out the season strong.”