In head coach Mark Page’s third season, a talented, versatile group took Haywood Christian Academy boys basketball to new heights.
The Red Wolves finished the season 21-3, 8-1 in conference play and beat a public school for the first time in school history, doing it twice (Blue Ridge and Nantahala). HCA made the final four of the Carolina School Athletic Association state playoffs. Junior Matthew Haynes was named the player of the year for the Blue Ridge Athletic Christian Conference, and three more players, Peyton Holcombe, Joel Page and Caleb Herbert were named to the All-Conference team. Joel Page was also named to the CSAA All-Tournament Team.
“I think that one thing we had this year that we have not had, is that we had depth,” Mark Page said. “We had our center at 6-foot-6. We had a couple other guys at 6-2, 6-3, and then our guards were fast. We just had every position. That’s hard to get sometimes in a small private school. … I think the leadership of the new guys that came in this year, the point guards, the shooting guards, I think it all just came together. They gelled really well in the regular season.
“...We played teams and mostly beat teams that had more bench. I think it came down to grit, a lot of it came down to how in shape we were and how hard we worked in the gym. We worked out all summer, last summer in the weight room. I think all those things contributed to our season. But most of all that the guys wanted to prove themselves, came out and just dominated people.”
Setting a school record by beating the public schools was a matter of the Red Wolves wanting to go out and prove themselves.
“They worked harder, they wanted it more,” Page said. “They wanted to prove themselves to the community that we’re not just some little, insignificant school, but instead we’re a force to be reckoned with. They really rose up.”
The Red Wolves’ success came from having a dynamic starting five that could contribute in different ways.
Haynes scored nearly 30 points a game and did a little bit of everything. Joel Page was a monster offensively and defensively in the paint. Emmanuel Roundy had a great year defensively.
Herbert was the team’s go-to 3-point shooter. Holcombe had a strong season as the team’s point guard.
And the Red Wolves had to have that level of play from their starters.
Due to injuries, Haywood Christian was basically down to six regular players all year, but the team’s conditioning and dedication paid off.
“The number one thing I was most proud of was that we overcame some adversity midseason with losing one of our players,” Page said. “It really forced the six guys that play regularly to rise up. I’m most proud that in games where my games needed subs, that they kept fighting. I think that really shows their heart. There was no other option. They had to perform. They had to stand up. Otherwise, we were going to lose. There was no other option. I didn’t have a deep bench; I only had few bench players in general. I lost my sixth man in the middle of the season. So, realistically, we’re down to six guys that can play ball all year. I’m extremely proud that they wanted it bad enough to rise up to that task.”
Any successful basketball team must have chemistry as well, and the Red Wolves had it in spades.
“Our team isn’t just a basketball team,” Haynes said. “Our team is a group of brothers and friends who have played together since freshman year. We’ve got some new guys this season that we absolutely love. The great thing is, our team can go hang out and have a good time together even off the court. It’s always awesome to be able to have that.”
The players have already started looking towards work on next year, which could be something special. All of the aforementioned players were juniors, and they’ll all be back.
Seeing what they accomplished this season, getting a taste of success in the final four and seeing what it took to get there should make the players even hungrier to improve for the next season. The standard for the program has been raised.
“I think they’re going to want more,” Page said. “I think they’re going to want a harder schedule, which we’re working on right now. I think the sky’s the limit in their minds. They feel essentially unbeatable, and I know that they’re going to put the work in as far playing summer ball, AAU or whatever to try to excel and go beyond what they’re doing. I think for the school as a whole, this has been a breakout year because now we’re having people call us about our basketball program. I think it’ll help grow the school. I think these guys are going to be really hard to beat next year.”