District runner-up basketball advances to regionals


photo by Sharon Shots Photography

Forward Will Faulk drives down the court against Oviedo on Thursday, Feb. 2. Faulk led the team with 22 points to defeat the Lions, 56-52.

Feb. 2, 2016: The varsity boys basketball team was up 67-50 through three quarters against Lake Nona in the district quarterfinals. Head coach Josh Kohn and the team were feeling confident they would advance, but then the unexpected happened: Lake Nona went on a 31-10 run in the fourth quarter to win the game, 81-77, leaving the team stunned and the student section in disbelief.

Before the team’s District 2 quarterfinal game against Harmony on Tuesday, Feb. 7, Kohn vowed to not let that happen again. The team responded by defeating the Longhorns, 52-29, led by forward Will Faulk with 16 points.

“It was hard for me to get too excited about the Harmony game after the Lake Nona loss last season,” Kohn said. “Half of the guys on the team now were on that team last season, so they knew how important it was to win and they pulled through to move on.”

The team then defeated St. Cloud in the district semifinals, 49-32, on Wednesday, Feb. 8, but lost to Melbourne in the district championship, 58-47, on Friday, Feb. 10. However, the team will still reach regionals for the first time since 2015, as they play at Ocoee tonight in the Class 8A regional quarterfinals.

Even though the Melbourne loss did not end the team’s season, it did affect where they play, as they will now have to travel for the Ocoee game instead of being able to host the game, which is disappointing for the seniors.

“It really stinks to not be able to play in the Kave,” Faulk said, who only scored four points in the Melbourne loss. “It was really unfortunate to lose, but now I’m motivated to have a great game against Ocoee.”

Ocoee enters the matchup as District 5 champions with an 11-14 regular season record, so the team, with its 15 wins, will look to upset the Knights and face the winner of East Ridge (Clermont) and Melbourne.

“The feel was terrible losing the district championship,” forward Jordan Cox said. “If we have the opportunity to play [Melbourne] again, we can for sure beat them.”

Despite the team making the playoffs, they had to play three weeks without starting point guard Grant Greene, as he suffered a high ankle sprain on Jan. 13 against Lake Howell, before returning for the Harmony game.

Over that span, however, the team managed to defeat area opponents Lyman, Lake Brantley, Winter Springs and Oviedo. Guard Andrew Hope served as Greene’s replacement, but did not disappoint with scoring, as he scored 11 points in the Lake Brantley game.

Even though this was Hope’s first year on the team, he understood the work ethic expected.

“I felt ready and prepared to take the opportunity and to just make the most out of the situation,” Hope said. “When you’ve played for so long, you prepare like you’re starting every game and stay ready for opportunities.”

While Hope was one of the first-year seniors to have an increased role, he was not the only first year senior on the team who made an immediate impact, as guard David Vabishchevich became a starter toward the middle of the season and guard Andrew Whisenant provided minutes off the bench.

After going 11-7 in January, one game that defined the team’s season was the Oviedo game, which was televised on Spectrum Sports. The team won, 56-52, on Thursday, Feb. 2 with Faulk leading the way with 22 points, including a layup and a free throw in the final minutes of the game to seal the victory.

“Coming into the game, we were excited and focused,” Faulk said. “I knew when I hit the and-one that it was a wrap. We defeated Oviedo.”

Although the team had success this season, inexperience still played a factor, not only with the seniors, but with the juniors, as guards Aiden Quiles and Jace Coffie had never played a varsity minute before this season and both guard Vecarie Pettis and center Joe Conley have had increased roles.

With that in mind, outside shooting was also missing in comparison to previous seasons, as Faulk, Conley and Cox scored the bulk of the points for the team this season inside the paint. Last season, the team averaged seven to eight three-pointers a game, but only four three-pointers a game this season, according to Kohn.

Despite Faulk, Cox and Conley carrying the offensive load for the team, Pettis has been a vocal leader for the defense, and it was his steal that led to a dunk that energized the crowd in the Oviedo game, and his four steals and a block in the Harmony game were key as well.

“It has been satisfying to do what we know how to do, which is dominate,” Pettis said. “With the mentality developed on the defensive side of the ball, I think we can make another states run.”

Adding to the team’s triumph this season has been the chemistry on and off the court, as Cox feels that was an element missing last season.

“Our team has been a lot closer than we were last year,” Cox said. “It has definitely helped on both sides of the ball, which made us commit fewer turnovers.”

The team will play at Ocoee tonight at 7 p.m. and tickets will be $7.

“I always think we can make a playoff run,” Kohn said. “We could be 10-15 and I would think we can make a run.” I don’t think there’s a guy on the team that thinks we don’t have a chance because that just doesn’t exist.”

Head coach Josh Kohn discussing how the team’s season has been.

Head coach Josh Kohn explaining how the team is different than last season and how inexperience has still played a factor.