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Special teams do special things

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Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy makes history with dominant 2017-18 season

By Denton Day

By: Denton Day
Sports Editor
sports@bedfordbulletin.com

To start the season the main goal for the Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy (SMLCA) Ospreys was simple–win the VACA State Championship. Achieving that goal would be easier said than done for the Ospreys.
    

The basketball season officially starts in November but the Ospreys began this year’s journey much earlier. The team started to get familiar with one another in June.

But before the team truly started working on the court the Ospreys had some holes to fill. The team entered the month without an athletic director and a head coach, filling those rolls would be the first step for SMLCA. If possible the school wanted one man to fill both rolls.
    

Chris Madden learned of the opening and reached out to setup a potential interview. Madden, who had graduated from Liberty University less than a month prior, was qualified for both open positions.

“I really prayed about it and I told [my wife] if they offer it I’m going to take it,” Madden said.
    

In his time at Liberty Madden worked with the Liberty Flames athletic department assisting on game days for various sports and day-to-day tasks around the office.
    

The program scheduled Madden for a second interview and later that day offered him the job. Meeting at McDonalds to sign the official contract, Madden became the Athletic Director and Head Coach of the boy’s basketball team.
  

A few days later Madden had already made contact with members of the team and started piecing together ways to get them more opportunities to play in the summer.    
    

“We were doing pick-up throughout the whole summer,” senior Caleb Wilmoth said. “We had never done that before. So there was a lot more preparation.”
    

With students traveling or working having consistent pick-up games can be hard in the summer. But Madden organized open gym sessions for the students to get as many reps as possible and would jump in and play with them.
  

“I don’t even know if they knew who I was for the first month or so,” Madden joked. “It was good to get them started in June and have something to build off of.”
  

 

While the Ospreys certainly got a head start with all the work they put in over the summer by the time the first practice came around it was clear they still had a lot of work to put in.
    

Wilmoth and seniors Trever Keaton and William Keep have known each other since all three were 8-years old. The three of them had built up a natural chemistry on the floor over the years.
    

The Ospreys made two big additions to this season’s team over the offseason. Thomas Dean came over from the Southwest Virginia Homeschool and Tobias Payne–who had never played organized basketball–joined the roster.
    

“They welcomed me with open arms,” Dean said. “It was like I was one of the guys off the bat.”
    

Madden described the first few practices as being a mix of being too selfish and too selfless.
    

“Putting all of these guys together did cause a little bit of chemistry issues,” Madden said.
    

The team’s regular season and home opener took place on Nov. 14 against New Covenant.  In a 60-50 win Keaton, Keep, Dean and Payne all reached double figure scoring numbers and the team got off to a 1-0 start.
    

Four days later SMLCA took part in the New River Tip-Off Tournament. Going 2-0 to start, the Ospreys reached the tournament finals to set up their first matchup with Dayspring Christian Academy. The Lions handed the Ospreys their first loss of the season, 58-43.
    

Two weeks later the Ospreys squared off against the Lions again, this time with home-court advantage. The deficit was closer but the result was the same, the Lions again walked out with a victory but the Ospreys sat high with a 5-2 record.
    

The team continued to build chemistry throughout the year and hit a bit of a struggle midway through.  Losing  four tough games in a row SMLCA found itself with a 10-7 record, a far cry from where they expected to be.
    

Earlier in the season Madden noted that the tough stretch is what made the team realize that they have to run a legitimate offense, not just settle for the first look or deep shots.
    

On Jan. 20 the Ospreys traveled to Blacksburg to take on Dayspring for the third time. Once again the Lions were victorious. With the 58-46 loss the Ospreys dropped to 10-8 with the playoffs three weeks away.
    

Following the third loss to Dayspring something about the team changed. The struggles and any chemistry issues were officially put in the rearview and they started winning and simply would not stop.
    

Late in January, thanks mostly to snow days, the team had four games in a five-day stretch, three of them in a row at a different location each time. They won them all by more than 20 points each.
    

Constantly traveling was taxing on the players. It is very rare to find teams at the high school level that will consistently travel two or three hours away to play. But the team always wanted to play.
  

“It was a long season,” Madden said with a smile. “It definitely put a strain on us but we were able to use some of those games as our own practice.”
    

The four wins started a history making stretch for the Ospreys. SMLCA went on to win their next 12 games, a program record.
    

“This was our first year back in the VACA,” Keep said. “I think being back in the VACA and having the main goal of regionals and states was a big part of it.”
    

As great as the win streak was the Ospreys made no mention of it.
    

“We never really addressed it,” Keaton said. “That’s how we expected to play all year.”
    

“I don’t even think [the kids] knew about it until it was broken,” Madden said.
    

During the win streak the Ospreys truly got to showcase how good of an offensive team they can be. They were not just squeezing by teams they were throttling them.
    

SMLCA scored over 70 points in eight of the 12 games, the largest win coming on Feb. 5 in a 76-39 victory over Temple Christian.
    

The win streak stretched into the playoffs. After taking down Parkway Christian Academy (76-54) and Christian Heritage Academy (66-55) in the first two rounds, the Ospreys found themselves face-to-face with rival Dayspring.
    

This time the Ospreys switched the game plan up. Doing what they did best all year the team got out in transition and put the pressure on the Lions early and often.
    

Shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc the Ospreys quickly put up a big lead and would not be stopped. In the fourth game between the two the Ospreys notched their first victory 78-65, marking their 12th consecutive win.
    

In the VACA regional championship the following day the team fell to New Covenant but had still qualified for the VACA state tournament for the first time in school history.
    

A win in the first round set the Ospreys up with another matchup against Dayspring. The fifth and final matchup had a chance at the state championship on the line. Like three of the four previous matchups Dayspring was victorious. Eliminating the Ospreys from achieving their state championship goal.
    

“I feel like that loss didn’t really show the work we put in,” Keep said. “I feel like we had an off game and it was really bad timing.”
    

SMLCA had a chance the following day at third place and Madden and the coaching staff made it clear that they would not be satisfied with fourth place.
    

For the seniors it was a chance to end their season with a victory and ride off into the sunset.
    

Taking on the Warriors of Grace Christian the Ospreys quickly found that the offensive issues they had against Dayspring were long in the past. Scoring an astonishing 90 points SMLCA obliterated Grace Christian 90-50.
    

“We had that big loss the day before and coming back and ending on a very good note was a lot of fun,” Payne said.
    

Keaton and Keep combined for 58 points, outscoring the entire Warrior team by themselves.
    

“It was huge to be able to end my career like that,” Keaton said. “It really made it more positive because it was really negative the night before. It was huge to end like that.”
    

The Ospreys ended the season with a 24-10 record, which was the most wins in program history.
    

Madden described the season in one word, “exceptional.”
    

Keaton earned first team All-District, first team All-Region, first team All-State and first team All-State Tournament. Dean earned first team All-District, first team All-Region, first team All-State.
    

Keep earned second team All-District and first team All-Region Tournament. Wilmoth earned first team All-Region Tournament.
    

“It was a very special season,” Madden said.  “Very rarely to you get a special team and special team’s do special things.”