One would be led to believe, that after losing 3 starters and an abnormally large group of graduating seniors, the prospects for yet another successful season for Ponte Vedra basketball would not be in the cards.
However, optimism breathes eternal for veteran coach Bud Beech, who is itching to once again lead the Sharks roundballers from the bench after taking a couple of years off while overseeing Ponte Vedra basketball as a quasi-general manager of sorts.
Although this year’s edition of Ponte Vedra basketball will be missing their entire front line from the previous season, a bevy of talented newcomers from last year’s outstanding Junior Varsity should provide a very athletic look for the 2015-16 school year.
Beech is concerned however, with only 2 players returning from last year’s rotation, it will be a learning experience for the 10 underclassmen. “Despite the fact we had a very good JV team last year it’s going to be a big transition for these guys,” said Beech who returns as an active coach after a career that has spanned some 30 years, posting more than 450 victories at Nease High and Ponte Vedra.
Two starters return from last year’s varsity, winners of 17 games, that was surprisingly ousted in it's opening playoff game by Menendez. The Sharks played shorthanded in their loss to their St. John County rivals as high scoring senior forward Quinn Carey was battling the flu bug, and defensive stopper Matt Johnson was so ill, that he made but a brief appearance in the shocking defeat.
When asked if this year’s style of play will be different from last year’s squad Coach Beech replied: “We will play hard and we will play fast and I think we will have a well balanced team this season.”
Beech added that unlike past Shark teams that featured go to players that could be counted on to score 20 points a game (Beau Beech in 2011-12, Jackson Johnson in 2013-14, and Quinn Carey from last years unit), this year’s team will be much more balanced according to Beech. “Instead of relying on one guy to put up 25 points I feel we have a number of players on any given night that can score by committee, so to speak, 15 or more points.”
Returning as starters from last year’s squad are Senior guard Matthew Johnson and Junior swingman JD Pirris. Both players have shown tremendous improvement during the off season and will certainly be called upon by Beech to play major roles for the Sharks.
One possible roadblock if the Sharks are to improve upon their 2014-15 won/loss record is their strength of schedule, easily the toughest schedule in school history.
Replacing a RIdgeview team that was woefully short on talent from a year ago, Beech showed little fear by scheduling a pair of perennial powerhouse fives, defending state D3 champion Providence and a Bolles team that may be their best squad in school history.
Other non-district opponents include their time-honored St. Johns County clashes with Bartram Trail, Creekside, St. Augustine and Nease as well as contests with a pair of other traditional cage powers in Bishop Kenny, Mandarin and Baker County. “I think we become better basketball players by playing good basketball teams,” added Beech with an eye towards making a productive post-season run.
Beech’s biggest challenge will be replacing his veteran front line of 6’4 Quinn Carey, 6’5 Donovan Garrard, and 6’4 Ross McCarthy. Carey and Garrard were 3-year starters for the Sharks while McCarthy was a two year regular.
Although the current Sharks will field a smaller lineup, Beech has high hopes for this year’s young team. "I believe we will have a well balanced team featuring some good out court shooters and a number of skilled ball handlers that will makes some threes,” summed up a confident Beech.
Last years team was composed of as many as 19 players, with 14 of those squad members seniors.
When asked if it may not have been in the best interest for the program to have an unusually high total of players on last year’s roster, Beech was quick to point out: “I don’t regret for one minute to have all those kids on the team last year. With a 12 man roster certainly it will be easier on the coach in practices this season, but I think those kids last year were very appreciative for being on the team and they were really good kids who didn’t gripe about their lack of playing time.”
Only Johnson and Pirris return from last year’s team that were in the Shark rotation, but there is little question that many of the Junior Varsity Players will prove to be more than adequate to replace those lost through graduation or transfer.
However, the Sharks will have to wait before the talented Pirris, the leading receiver on the Shark’s playoff bound football team, takes the court. “We will miss JD but we know what he can do,” said Coach Beech. “We play a 27-28 game schedule so we know he will be with us for the majority of the season. In the meantime I’m just happy to go out to the football field and watch him catch all those passes. On a positive note, until he returns, somebody is going to enjoy getting some of his minutes that hopefully will translate into a better player.”
The current Ponte Vedra squad will count on receiving some major help from last year’s outstanding JV team. After starting the season with a pair of narrow defeats, the Shark JV’s would go on to win 20 of their next 22 games to finish the season with a spectacular 20-4 record. Many of those players will be vying for valuable playing time during the forthcoming season.
Beech however cautioned: “Despite the fact we had a very good JV team last year it’s still going to be a big transition for these youngsters.”
Diminutive guard Michael Nicandri will bring to the Sharks many of the ball handling skills PVHS fans witnessed when 4 year starter Jackson Johnson was starring for the Sharks. Nicandri, and Jackson’s younger brother Matt, each possess ball handling skills that will make it difficult for the opposition to apply full court pressure on the Sharks.
Sure to see plenty of action this year will be front court players Easton Hensley and Lance Kren. Although Kren played down in the low post for the JVs, the 6’2 junior has refined his game over the summer with some much improved out court shooting. The 6’2 Hensley is another player who has blossomed over the off-season and will give the Sharks some much needed athleticism up front.
Beech is hopeful that he has a ‘Diamond in the Rough’ in 6’6 sophomore Jack Johnson. Not only does Johnson give the Sharks front court height, but also has a wing span far wider than his 6’6 stature. Beech spoke highly of the still growing sophomore. “We will not bring a sophomore up to the varsity unless we expect to give him a lot of minutes,” and that certainly appears to be the case for Johnson. I think you’re going to see Jack be our shot blocker this season and provide us as a much needed rebounder.”
Ross McCarthy’s younger brother Dean should also help in the Shark front line while 6’0 Chris Tomacewski is a very athletic performer who could serve a similar role as that served by Pat Boylan from the 2014 squad.
Clay Welch has displayed noticeable improvements from his brief appearances from last year’s Shark squad and could move quickly into the rotation. Completing this year’s 12 player roster include Jack Shannon, an outstanding shooter who could serve as a designated zone buster, and a pair of newcomers, Cole Martin and Spencer Turner.
Coach Beech, as well as Shark fans can get an early glimpse of this year’s Shark squad with a pair of pre-season games this week at the Shark Tank. Matanzas will tip it off against the Sharks on Monday (Nov 9) while a very talented Orange Park five will give the Sharks a stern test on Thursday night (Nov 12). Both games will begin at 7:30 PM following 6:00 PM varsity contests by other local teams.
The Sharks will begin their regular season with a home opener vs. St. Augustine on November 17th with the varsity game to follow the 6:00 PM Junior Varsity contest.