A new coach, departed players, new players, and all the chemistry issues that come with that were the story coming into WCA’s 2019-2020 varsity boys basketball season. Coach Kenya Williams was replaced by new Head Coach Kashif Johnson. With him came several new and unfamiliar players. The team also lost 2019 Metro Player of the Year Dexter Radcliffe, and clutch point guard Kivinie Johnson to graduation. Pre-season indications were, however, that this would be a fairly strong team, and optimism swelled around a potential return to the VISAA playoff picture, based on solid play as a team in summer contests.
The start of the season, however, darkened that optimism with four straight losses, albeit against substantial playoff competition. They would lose their first two against two current high-level Division 2 playoff contenders, Norfolk Collegiate and Norfolk Christian. The next two were against current Division 3 would-be qualifiers: current #4 Carmel School, and #7 Richmond Christian. As the season progressed, the team won most of the games it should have won, but were generally losing games they needed to win to make an impression on pollsters who decide who gets into the weekly poll rankings, the predominant determiner for tournament selection. “Our schedule was rough to say the least,” remarked Head Coach Kashif Johnson. “We faced some challenging opponents this season, most of whom are playing into their respective division’s state tournament. As a program, we had to find our identity with the abundance of incoming talent we had this off-season to mesh with the returning players. I’m proud of the way we banded together to attack the rest of the season.”
The turning point of the season may have come on December 16th, against then #4 Nansemond Suffolk Academy. The Eagles led most of the game, only to lose the lead and the game in the final seconds 69-67, but the game showed what the Eagles were capable of when truly playing as a team. Defense and rebounding were spotty at best prior to that game, but both were certainly much more spirited in a close contest against such a substantial opponent.
The Eagles then went on a 10-5 run following the Christmas Break, including a 6 game winning streak recently capped by a monumental win over Division 2 tournament hopeful Peninsula Catholic, 72-57. Although they followed that with a loss against speedy Church Hill Academy the following night in an away game, that loss is easily defended due to the back-to-back nature of the two games and player fatigue. Coach Johnson points to well-rounded improvement and great play from the starting five, and Junior Point Guard Jakari Wilkins in particular, as the main factor in the recent string of wins. “As a team, we are proving our true capabilities, and we are benefitting from awesome play from our seniors Brandon Herman, Jalen Vaughn, and Connor Simmons. But the engine of our team is Jakari Wilkins who leads us in not only points, but also assists and steals,” explained Johnson. “We have also benefitted from the emergence of Trenton Calhoun who has been magnificent on both ends of the floor.”
The Eagles, as of February 4th were the 12th ranked team in a Division III field that will draw 12 teams for the State tournament. With just VMAC competition remaining (including Tuesday night’s near 50 point victory in the opening game of the VMAC semi-finals), WCA should go through to tournament selection without any additional blemishes to their selectability. The hazard will come from teams just below them who have garnered votes and are close enough leapfrogging the Eagles by pulling off a major upset in their conference tournament play .
As it stands right now in the most recent coaches poll, if the field were selected as currently ranked, WCA would travel to Harrisonburg, VA to face off against Eastern Mennonite. That game would be scheduled Tuesday, February 25th. We will keep you updated on developments as they occur. WCA will play for the VMAC title Friday against Grace Christian at 8PM at Guardian Christian Academy. We hope that all of our Big Blue Crew will travel over to Guardian to support the team. In addition to the Boys varsity game, the Girls will be playing in a championship game at 6, and the JJV team will be playing in the JJV Championship game as well at 4:30PM.