Sunday, March 5, 2017

Exciting Week Yields Three Championships for PCS

It's been an exciting week for Portersville Christian School.  Since the middle school league merged with SWCAC, we are down to just a couple of alphabetic acronyms for the playoff venues in which we participate.  SWCAC stands for Southwest Christian Athletic Conference, a group of about sixteen or so Christian schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania (and two in Eastern Ohio) who have come together to form a league which conducts tournaments and provides championships for teams in several sports.  We participate in soccer, volleyball, boys and girls basketball on the middle school and varsity level.  We also belong to a larger group, the NCSAA, National Christian School Athletic Association, which has a much larger membership of several hundred schools of various sizes, all across the country.  The NCSAA offers pre and post season tournaments in a variety of sports, and over the years, PCS has participated in the soccer, volleyball and basketball tournaments at the high school level. 

The last Saturday in February, at Matheny Field House on the campus of Geneva College, was perhaps the most exciting day in PCS basketball history as all four teams, middle school girls and boys, and varsity girls and boys, played in SWCAC championships, running from 1:00 p.m. until 8:30.  That's a huge accomplishment.  Let me put it into context for you.  We had a pep rally on the Friday prior to Saturday's games, and introduced the team members, one by one.  More than 50 out of the 135 students in grades 7-12 were standing on the floor.

Varsity Boys
PCS won its second straight SWCAC title, in its third straight championship game appearance on February 24, beating Cheswick Christian, the other perennial basketball power in the conference, for the second straight year, in the third championship appearance for both teams.  In fact, the last time PCS lost to a SWCAC opponent was the championship against Cheswick in 2015. 

That's exciting.  Let me share with you something that is remarkable and noteworthy. 

Many of the schools we play are small, and in some cases, getting enough players together for a team has been a struggle.  There aren't many schools that can put both a varsity and JV team on the floor, so there are a lot of younger players, while PCS has experienced players, and an abundance of juniors and seniors.  SWCAC isn't a league where, on any given day, any team can beat any other one, so there have been many games when PCS has allowed its younger players to carry the weight of the game, rather than play a game for the purpose of adding to the statistics of its starters.  A win is a win, and in addition to giving the younger players a lot of valuable varsity experience, there was some contribution made to the atmosphere of the game for the players on the other teams. 

That's not something everyone understands.  But I think most of our players did understand, and accepted this approach.  That's what Christian school basketball should look like.  Thanks, guys, for a great season. 

Varsity Girls
The varsity girls faced a challenging year, rose to the occasion, and overcame the adversity to finish an excellent season that exceeded expectations.  This particular team is in the third season of a restoration of the program that enjoyed multiple successes, SWCAC championship appearances and victories, and was the dominant girls' team in the conference since it was started in 1986.  Following a succession of championship appearances, and championships, that began in 2008, in 2013, there were not enough girls in the upper grades to field a team, and the decision was made not to pull up middle school players for varsity competition, so we didn't even put a team on the floor that season. 

This year started with the highest expectations since 2013.  Younger players stepped up to fill gaps left by graduation.  Everyone was healthy, and Jennie Mangiapane was able to return after missing most of 2015-16.  Then Abby Green injured her leg and went out for the season.  But the team overcame the adversity, and worked hard.  The main competition in the league came from Aquinas Academy, with a senior-laden, experienced team that had been aiming for a conference title since they joined in 2014. 

Perhaps the highlight for PCS was beating Aquinas, a team against which we have always struggled, at home.  It was a goal they set, and achieved.  And while the rematch in the SWCAC championship didn't turn out to be a victory,  the team did achieve a sound, solid win over the Greater Pittsburgh conference champion and top seed, Evangel Heights, and a first round victory in the NCSAA tournament to cap off a great season.  Expectations are high for next season.

This team was characterized by a great attitude, and the kind of sportsmanship expected from a team that wears the name of Christ, and has the symbol of his sacrifice on its uniforms.  After an exciting, hard fought victory at Union Area in New Castle, a parent from the other school came up to me and said that she was so encouraged by the attitude and actions of our girls during the game, and that the team played and conducted themselves in a manner that lived up to the name Christian.  And that was the real win. 

Middle School Boys
The Middle School boys' team had a great season, unbeaten in the conference, with just one loss in the regular season, to Heartland Christian from Ohio.  The team ended the regular season with an exciting win over Heartland at home.  They made it to the tournament championship against Central Christian, a team they beat twice during the regular season.  It's tough, at this level, to beat a team three times, and unfortunately, the shots just didn't fall when they played at Geneva.  But they capped off a great season, and the eight grade boys will form the core of what will be a very successful JV team next year. 

Middle School Girls
No other team at PCS provided parents and fans with the kind of excitement generated by the Middle School girls' team this year.  In a season that featured several come from behind wins in dramatic fashion, the playoff run was characteristic of the whole season.  Injuries to key players just increased the drama.  A triple overtime win in the semi-final game, in front of a large, excited home crowd set the stage for a dramatic finish in the championship at Geneva College, a rematch against Central Christian, whom they'd beaten twice in close games during the season. 

You'd never guess that 13 points would be enough to win a basketball game, nor that getting even that many would be such a difficult challenge.  But the shots finally started falling in the last four minutes of the game, at about the same time that the defense started keeping the other team from scoring.  Yes, two middle school girls' teams had the fans yelling and on their feet for the last nine seconds of the game.  "Never quit" was the characterization of the game, and the team.

In perspective, there are many things more important than having four basketball teams play in championship games, or bringing home trophies from a national tournament.  We're a week out from the state archery tournament, when another group of our students will go for competition with high expectations based on last season's performance. 

It's exciting for our students, and contributes to the atmosphere of the school.  It is a recognition of achievement, practice, and working to achieve a goal.  In this context, it illustrates basic principles that are motivated by our faith in Christ, and our desire to please God in all things.  Learning how to play as a team, to respect the work and commitment of others, and to do our best because it contributes to everyone else's effort and goals are the primary achievements.  Success is rarely the result of selfish behavior.  And even at this level, in our small, Christian school league, the principle works. 

Thank God, for the opportunity we have for our students to understand how to put their talent and commitment to work, and see how that achieves success. 

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