View slideshow FC wins 2nd consecutive Valley Championship (VIDEO)
Eagles come out strong at Selland, remain aggressive to win by 20
For the second year in a row, the FC boys' basketball team travelled to Selland Arena to contend for the CIF Central Section Division V Valley Championship against Laton, March 2. The Eagles came out strong, scoring first, and kept their lead throughout, winning 60-40.
Warmups come off, the signs go up and five returning champions claim the court to defend their title. After four quarters of guarding, defending, scoring and cheering, the varsity boys' basketball team maintains their title: California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Section D-V Champions.
The No. 1-seeded Eagles faced off against the No. 2-seeded Laton Mustangs in the Division V Valley Championship game at the Selland Arena, March 2. FC came out prepared as senior Cooper Belmont won the tipoff, foreshadowing the outcome of the game.
The Eagles led for the duration of the match, starting with the very first basket, scored by senior Ryan Neufeld. This gap only increased throughout the game, closing the first half with an Eagle leading, 34-20.
Success continued as the crowd grew louder and the score escalated to an almost inevitable win. The clock ran out to the tune of the synchronized fans, and the boys ended the game with an Eagle victory of 60-40.
FC won the CIF Central Section Division V championship twice before 2011: former FC math teacher Ericlee Gilmore captained the 1992 squad and beat Strathmore; the 1997 champions beat Immanuel, 47-43, and were led by Ben Williams, Adam Lee and Scott Foust.
Players cheer victory
The Eagles are now 24-2 overall and will continue into the state playoffs. Returning varsity members hold a back-to-back title, celebrating yet another championship win for their 2011-12 season.
Head Coach Josh Justin felt secure in the team's talent and felt nerves were not a hinderance in the game.
"At the start of the game I felt very confident that we were going to play well," Justin sad. "The experience of being at Selland last year definitely helped the team to not be that nervous. The team seemed very confident in the locker room before the game. This confidence helped us get out to a quick start and an early lead."
Neufeld's skill and success on the court earned him the game MVP award, which was celebrated after the game had ended.
"I was surprised [by the MVP win] because I thought all my teammates played very well and it was definitely a team effort," Neufeld said. "I thought the game went pretty well. Considering that Selland is a tough place to play and shoot at, we knew we had to play solid defense. Playing hard defense allowed us to transition well and score in the fast break."
Neufeld also experienced last year's Division V win, but this year held special meaning for him.
"It [winning for the second year in a row] is surreal and almost hard to describe," Neufeld. "It feels so rewarding since we have worked hard everyday. Winning makes it all worth it. I think we felt a little more comfortable this time since we had experienced from playing there last year."
"It was really cool because I've never been at a school where everyone is into sports this much. I got pretty excited and anxious, even though I wasn't playing the game. You can just feel the excitement coming off the court."--Abbey Cowan, '13
Though all the starting players participated in last year's victory, new players valued their first-time title. Freshman Lance Henderson played on the varsity team throughout the first season, scoring two points against Laton in the championship.
"Winning as a freshman is an awesome feeling because it's only my first year and you never know how many chances you'll get," Henderson said. "The win goes to hard work. Hopefully, we'll do really well [in the state playoffs], we need to just keep working hard."
With five starting seniors, Justin knew the team could pull out a win, and the fans only helped add more to the game.
"All of the seniors played extremely well and contributed to our success," Justin said. "The five starters all had solid performances and helped lead us to victory. We really appreciate all of the support that we received from our fans."
Fans travel to Selland, show support
The sixth man adds the extra pressure, the immense uproar and continuous encouragement that meets the stereotypical championship game.
The Nuthouse, dressed for a whiteout theme, showed their support with colorful signs, blown-up faces of FC players and booming cheers. As fans, the student body came out to support their peers.
Junior Abbey Cowan, a new FC student, appreciates the rare game-time atmosphere.
"It was really cool because I've never been at a school where everyone is into sports this much," Cowan said. "I got pretty excited and anxious, even though I wasn't playing the game. You can just feel the excitement coming off the court."
Many students attend to view their friends play, including freshman Aaron DeWolf, who came to cheer on both Henderson and Trevor Beal, '15.
"I usually come to basketball games to hang out with friends and have fun," DeWolf said. "But this time I came to watch the game. It was really exciting. It wasn't that close, but we were all so pumped in the stands that we made it fun. I like cheering on my friends, especially the freshman on the team."
Since they were defending their championship title, FC fans flocked in droves to see their team in action. Senior Brady Lee prepares a drive down the court while fans cheer behind him.
The championship game brought out many students, which only buit onto the game's excitement, Justin said.
"The student section was absolutely amazing," Justin said. "Our student section has been great all year long, but Friday was by far the best turnout we have had all season long. Their energy definitely helped to keep the team pumped up throughout the game."
Many of the parents and faculty also attend the event, especially since the team has been so successful throughout the season. Principal Todd Bennett celebrates along with the school.
"It was a great game; the boys played really well," Bennett said. "Our fans were fantastic, it was just a great experience all day long. It [the win] is huge, I don't think this has ever happened in the history of Fresno Christian so that's awesome."
Parents especially revel in viewing their sons' accomplishments. Pam, Henderson's mother, commemorates the efforts of her son.
"I am so proud to watch my son play as a freshman," Pam said. "He had the opportunity to play near the end; he even got a layup and scored two points. All those boys have been such a great example for my son. It's also a great opportunity for Fresno Christian to showcase our talent and glorify God. It also sets an example for our community."
Bennett realizes the effect that the win will have on the players' lives, being an event they will always remember.
"I am really happy for the kids both on the court and the students supporting them in the stands," Bennett said. "These boys will remember this for the rest of their lives. They will be best buddies for the rest of their lives and this is something they will always have to look back on."
The Eagles got the No. 8-seed going into state playoffs. With a 24-2 record, they are one win away from being the winningest boys'' basketball team in school history. Follow the whole CIF California State Division V basketball tournament through the playoff bracket.
FC will next host the No. 9-seeded Holy Martyrs, Wednesday March 7 at 7 p.m.
For more information on boys' basketball, read the Feb. 28 article, All League selections esteem FC basketball players
or the Feb. 29 article, Boys' basketball sport shorts: Eagles punch ticket to Selland (VIDEO). For more information on FCS sports, visit the Fresno Christian Athletics web page.
Nick Avery, Mary Hierholzer, Danielle St. Marie, Annalise Rosik and Maddie Yee also contributed to this article.