Unlike last season when Coach Beech only had to replace but two seniors, such will certainly not be the case when he initiates roll call for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Although the cupboard will not be bare for the immediate future, what with some promising returnees from the current varsity, as well as a number of stalwarts from the Junior Varsity squad, it goes without saying that this year’s seniors will be difficult to replace.
Here is a look at your 2017 PVHS graduates who will soon be playing in their final high basketball game for the Ponte Vedra Sharks:
# 10 Noah Bunkosky
It’s too bad Noah doesn’t have another year of eligibility remaining. Outside of JD Pirris and Mike Nicandri, there may not be a better ball handler than Noah. Bunkosky was so unknown by this author that I went the entire year misspelling his name.
It is very common for seniors who see very little action to sulk on the sidelines at their lack of playing time but this certainly was not the case for Bunkosky.
Coach Beech: “During tryouts, I noticed how fast Noah could play and how well he defended. He also was very coachable and was always appreciative of the opportunity. He increased the competitive level of our practices and I’m so glad he was a part of this year’s team.”
#23 Eston Hensley
Eston Hensley will end his career as the 5th leading scorer in PVHS history, not bad for a player who was nothing more than a reserve just two years ago on the Junior Varsity.
Hensley’s game as improved so much over the past two seasons that, if one had to name an all time Ponte Vedra basketball team, it would be hard to leave Eston’s name off that list.
Hensley is perhaps the most athletic of all the current Shark players, with good hands, a strong body, and great leaping ability. Although Hensley's long three pointers often take on the rotation similar to a Hoyt Wilheam knuckerball (this writer is clearly dating himself), his long bombs have found the bottom of the net nearly 40 per cent of the time.
When this Shark season, as well as Hensley’s career comes to an end, Eston will be up in the upper echelon of Shark players in numerous categories. One area that Eston has needed to improve his game most may have been solved of late. During much of his two years as a varsity performer, Hensley has been hesitant to utilize his quickness, strength and well above average ball handling skills with drives to the basket. If the talented Hensley can add this skill to his already rosy resume, there is little doubt that he can play basketball at the college level next year.
Coach Beech: “Eston is a great example of someone that did the work required to become a very good player. Seldom did he miss an opportunity to be in the gym! A good athlete with an instinct to rebound and get open shots. For this reason he is one of our leading scorers and rebounders the past two season. I really enjoyed coaching Eston and watching him achieve the accomplishments he deserves over his career at PVHS.”
#35 Lance Kren
Lance Kren will end his career at Ponte Vedra perhaps best know as your quintessential streak shooter. As a starter on the JV team in his first two years at Ponte Vedra, Kren was a 6’1 post player. However, Kren remained at nearly the same height for his final two years and was forced to change his game from a post player to one who could muster the most damage from out court.
However, with the rise to stardom from teammates Jack Shannon and Eston Hensley, and the recent resurgence from 6’8 junior Jack Johnson, Lance’s playing time has diminished in his senior year.
Kren during his junior season played a role similar to that played by former Shark player Kellen Wilson. Although undersized for a center, he was often called upon to play a similar role to Wilson as a 6’1 post player. Lance had a number of games where he reached double figures in the scoring column, with a most memorable 22 point performance in a Shark victory over Menendez where he made 6 three pointers, tied for second in PVHS history.
Kren has graciously accepted his reduced role this year while still giving an all out effort when he appears on the court. When called upon to deliver, one needs to look no further back then to Tuesday’s game with Fletcher when Kren came through with 15 points and a number of rebounds.
Coach Beech: “Lance has swung the momentum in many games with his ability to knock down “3s” anywhere on the court. Under sized for his position, he still defended and rebounded the ball due to his hustle and desire on the court. Lance is an outstanding young man that always cared more about the team. A joy to coach!”
# 23 Dean McCarthy:
Dean McCarthy is Ponte Vedra’s answer to the Energy Bunny. With his motor always racing, often times over the speed limit, McCarthy has been a valuable contributor to the Shark’s good fortune during his two year varsity career.
Dean’s playing time has been set back somewhat by having to miss all of the Ponte Vedra basketball games the past two season that took place over the Holiday break. Dean would accompany his family for their annual trip back to their native land of Ireland and it would take him some additional time to get back in his basketball groove.
McCarthy always give 110% when pressed into action by coach Beech and is always on alert to play some solid defense. McCarthy shows no fear out on the court and is never hesitant to fire away from behind the three point arc. Unfortunately, Dean has not been accurate with his long range shots, but has done a nice job lately of moving without the ball where his teammates have found McCarthy slashing to the basket for much easier layups.
McCarthy logged a lot of minutes in Ponte Vedra’s recent win over a very good Fletcher team and played a pivotal role in the much needed victory. Always appearing to having a gusto attitude on the court, the 6’2 senior could play a key role down the stretch before his Shark career comes to a close.
Coach Beech: “Describing Dean as a player with high energy would be an understatement! I don’t ever remember Dean not going full speed in a game. We like to play fast and this is the reason we put him on the floor. He is a quick defensive player with the ability to get to the rim on offense. Dean is definitely another player who has been fun to coach over his high school years!
# 4 Mike Nicandri (Captain)
Mike Nicandri’s spirited high school career came to an end much sooner than he, his coach, and Shark fans would have liked when he incurred a season ending knee injury in a recent game against Bolles.
Nicandri’s role as a ball handler and team leader will be hard to replace as this season draws to a close. His loss denies Ponte Vedra a much needed ball handler to take the pressure off JD Pirris.
However, the 5’7 dynamo will leave a lasting impression on his teammates for the role that he has filled during his two years on the varsity. Two games especially stand out in this author's look back on the past season.
While Ponte Vedra’s football team was playing in the state championship on Friday December 9, the prospects looked gloomy for a Shark basketball victory that very same evening against perennial power Palatka.
Playing without JD Pirris, it was up to Nicandri to step up and fill JD’s role of breaking Palatka’s smothering full court pressure defense. The pint size senior came up big in the narrow victory with his deft ball handling and defensively coming up with 6 much needed steals.
In the Shark's come from behind victory against arch rival Nease, Nicandri was called upon by Coach Beech to come off the bench early and put the clamps on a Neese player who scored a quick 8 points before the game was but a couple of minutes old. Nicandri shut down the Panther guard without a basket made the rest of the contest.
Coach Beech: “Mike’s presence on the court throughout his career was quickly noticed by everyone. Few players are capable of playing at the speed and with determination he displayed during a game. Over the years his humor and connection with teammates and coaches have made him a team leader. Injuries in the second half of his junior and senior year were difficult and untimely, yet, his loyalty to the team and friends continued throughout the season.”
# 1 JD Pirris (Captain)
Although JD is a long-shot to become the fourth Ponte Vedra player to surpass the 1,000 point barrier, only an often maligned FHSAA scheduling system, one that results in sports overlapping one another, could prevent this multi-sport star from accomplishing this rare feat.
However, scoring points doesn’t even begin to register the true value to Ponte Vedra basketball for JD Pirris. Although listed at 6’1, Pirris was a dominant rebounder, pulling down more then 200 rebounds in a single season in his junior season. Pirris will rank near the top of the PVHS career leader board in a number of categories: Steals, assists, free throws made, as well as in the aforementioned scoring and rebounding departments.
However, there his one major Pirris attribute that does not show up in any statistical category: Ball Handling. Coach Beech will be hard pressed to find a future Shark that can replace JD in taking care of the ball against constant pressure.
Its safe to say this proud program has never seen a player that possesses JDs skill and intense desire to take the ball to the rim. It’s probable, at this point in his career, JD will continue his athletic career at the Division 1 level, not in basketball, but football, where Pirris had more than 1,000 career receiving yards in leading PVHS all the way to the state football finals.
Coach Beech: “J.D. has developed into one of the best point guards in the area during his three season on Varsity. Off the court; quiet, calm, respectful, appreciative, and during the game he’s a fierce competitor and a player that makes his teammates better.”
# 11 Jack Shannon:
From often being the last player coming off the bench on the JV team to ending his career as one of the all time top players in Shark history, Jack Shannon’s outstanding basketball career would have been inconceivable just two year’s ago.
If the powers to be ever come up with an award for the most improved player—- they could name it the Jack Shannon Most Improved Player Award.
Shannon has played his role to near perfection this season. When the deadly shooter gets the ball with some open space, he fires away. And nearly 50% of the time the results are 3 points for Ponte Vedra. When the space is not there Shannon has shown great maturity by not forcing a bad shot. An area where Shannon has shown perhaps the most improvement this year has been his ability to put the ball on the floor and slice his way to the basket, resulting in many more foul shots.
Over the course of the 30 game season in 2016-16 Shannon only went to the free thrown line but 23 times. During the present season, Shannon has already more than doubled that total in but 21 games where his proficiency from the free throw line has been uncanny. Such is Shannon’s shooting skills, he is currently at the top of the leader board in the entire First Coast area in free show and 3-point shooting percentage.
Coach Beech: “Jack went from 3rd string on JV his sophomore year to a starter his Junior and Senior season on Varsity. Like most players that exhibit this type of improvement, the reason is he shows up! He took advantage of as many opportunities he could to get in the gym and improve his game and worked very hard. Jack is an outstanding 3 point shooter, along with being a player that can now impact the game in many other ways. It was great to have the opportunity to coach such a dedicated player.”
#13 Chris Tomacewski:
Chris Tomacewski will cap his Shark career as one of the most popular players ever to don the Ponte Vedra uniform. And how this athletic and tireless player loves to play on the big stage! Fans of Nease High School will not soon forget how it was Tomacewski who was the hero in both Shark victories at Nease the past two seasons.
Chris followed up his outstanding effort in the win over Nease his junior season with an even more dramatic performance as a senior. With 7 seconds remaining and the game all even, Tomacewski came through jn the clutch by taking a deft pass from JD Pirris and banking in a reverse layup to send the large Shark fans into a frenzy with his game winning shot.
Tomacewski has merited a number of nicknames for his dossier’ — Mr. Clutch for one, and The Panther Killer for yet another. Every team should be so fortunate to have a team oriented performer like Chris Tomacewski on one’s roster.
Coach Beech: “Chris has been a key player on all the teams he has played for during his JV and Varsity career. He is always one of the best defenders, along with having big offensive numbers in crucial games. He is a great person to have on a team, always making practices and long bus rides fun and entertaining. His athleticism will be impossible to replace. Johnny C. coming up from JV might try to replace the entertainment part!”