When the 15 players on the varsity boys' basketball team began practicing in November, they knew they had a chance to be good this year. But they could not have predicted how far they would go — almost winning Division III CCS and reaching the NorCal tournament for the first time in school history.
Their long season finally ended March 8 as the No. 2-seeded Vista del Lago, a school from the Sacramento area, knocked off No. 15-seeded Saratoga 75-52.
“Losing the way we did was difficult, especially in our last game of the season,” senior forward Kevin Couch said. “But just to be able to get to where we did is something that I’m really proud of.”
To make the NorCal tournament, the Falcons, who ended their season 19-10, made the CCS finals on March 4. They lost 72-56 to Monterey.
“Even though we lost to Monterey, I’m proud of how far we were able to go in CCS and in the entire season,” senior guard Jonathan Cai said. “We rose above people’s expectations to achieve what only we knew we could.”
The boys put up a fight to try to get the championship, but they could not keep up with Monterey’s outside shooting and fast-paced offense. The Falcons played a solid offensive game; however, they were unable to string together enough stops to win.
“We honestly played pretty well, especially in the second half,” senior guard Joshua Deng said. “Monterey just had an exceptional game, and there’s not much we can do about that.”
In order to make it to the CCS championship game, the Falcons defeated Gunderson 60-55 on March 1. With the game tied with under 2 minutes to go, the boys shut the Grizzlies down with stifling defense and were able to score just enough to win.
“The Gunderson game really highlighted how we have grown as a team,” Cai said. “Early on in the season, we may have folded under the pressure in the last few minutes, but this time, we did what was necessary to get the win.”
In thrilling game on Feb. 25, the Falcons defeated Aptos in the CCS quarterfinals 62-61 in overtime after being down 8 points with just over 2 minutes remaining in regulation.
Previously, the Falcons routed Pajaro Valley in their first CCS round on Feb. 23 with a score of 83-51. According to Couch, this win gave the Falcons the confidence they needed to succeed in CCS.
How did the Falcons climb so high this year? Players pointed to a team culture that changed with the addition of new head coach Patrick Judge and assistant coaches Benjamin Neves and Brad Nall..
“Our entire brand of basketball changed with the coaching change,” Cai said. “We play a more fast-paced offense, and I think it really contributed to our success this year.”
After narrowly missing out on a league title to champion Mountain View, the Falcons pushed forward instead of giving up. With senior center Joel Schneidmiller and junior guard Harrison Fong leading the team, they were able to reach the Division III CCS championship as just the 5th seed. Schneidmiller, a 6-6 center with extraordinary jumping ability, led the team in scoring and rebounding with over 15 points a game and 10 rebounds a game, with Fong adding over 12 points a game.
However, the team’s success was not solely a result of the new offensive approach. According to Deng, this year’s team is the closest team he has ever been on and is a major reason for their success.
“This year was definitely a special year for all of us,” Deng said, “I couldn’t be any prouder of what our seniors, and the rest of the team, accomplished.”