WOODSTOCK — Massanutten Military Academy forward Jarvis Vaughan said recently he thinks the Colonels’ postgraduate basketball squad is a different team than the one that suffered three losses through the first half of the season.
Recent results attest to that line of thinking. Massanutten (31-3) closed its regular season with a 15-game winning streak — and has won 25 of its last 26 games — as it rolls into the National Prep Championship tournament at Connecticut College, which begins this morning and will unofficially crown the postgrad national champ.
The Colonels haven’t lost since Jan. 18, and you have to go a full two months back of that date to find the last point in the season when MMA lost a pair of games in a span of eight days.
“If you ask me, all three losses are just like we were supposed to win,” Vaughan said after the Colonels blasted Bristol Prep (Tennessee), 106-45, at home in last Thursday’s regular-season finale. “There were things that we didn’t do, there were things that we didn’t acquire yet. We didn’t have the chemistry we have now. We didn’t have the team motor. Everything was just different back then. It was early on in the season, we had just met each other, but now we all gel together and we know how everyone plays and we know everyone’s roles. Now that we know this, I don’t see anybody up there that can physically stop us. I mean it’s just all up to us mentally, and we’ll see here soon.”
Massanutten found out on Feb. 23 that it would be making its fifth National Prep Championship appearance in five nonconsecutive years under head coach Chad Myers. The Colonels learned on Sunday night who their first opponent would be in the 10-team, two-day tournament.
MMA, which earned a bye in this morning’s opening round, will take on Mount Zion Prep (Maryland) at 1:30 p.m. later in the day. Interestingly enough, Mount Zion was the team that handed the Colonels their last loss, a 77-68 setback on a neutral court at Fork Union Military Academy in mid-January.
Led by guard Ayinde Hikim, a La Salle University commit, the Warriors (28-4) have five other wins against national tournament teams, including victories over Brewster Academy (New Hampshire), IMG Academy (Florida), Link Year Prep (Missouri), Hargrave Military Academy and Scotland Campus Sports (Pennsylvania). The latter came in the Great Atlantic Conference tournament championship game last Friday and was the only loss of the season for Scotland Campus (34-1).
Massanutten, led by Virginia Commonwealth University signee Jarren McAllister and North Carolina State commit Dereon Seabron, also is on the same side of the bracket as Woodstock Academy (Connecticut; 34-1), which beat the Colonels, 88-71, in the National Prep Showcase in Connecticut on Nov. 18.
“I think it’s one of the most balanced years as far as like there’s 10 teams this year and I feel like literally anybody thinks that probably eight of them could win it,” said Myers, whose Colonels are 2-2 against teams in the tournament field (MMA beat Hargrave, 108-100, on a neutral site on Jan. 27 and IMG Academy, 74-67, in Florida on Feb. 24).
MMA, one of those teams that feels it has a legitimate shot to win the title, has never won a game at the National Prep Championship.
Myers is hoping the Colonels’ winning battle against the injury bug this winter means better fortune is ahead for MMA on its most recent trip to Connecticut. Massanutten has been burned by late-season injuries in the past. A loaded 2012-13 team featuring future NCAA player of the year Frank Mason III went into the national tournament shorthanded, and last season the Colonels were in a similar scenario in their one-and-done trip to Connecticut.
Massanutten was fully healthy at the end of the regular season on Thursday — Myers made sure of that fact by playing his regulars sparingly in the blowout win over Bristol Prep — and appears to have gotten its injuries out of the way early. The Colonels were missing 6-foot-10 forward Mahamadou Diawara for the second half of their loss to The Skill Factory on Nov. 10, and he played sparingly in their loss to Woodstock Academy eight days later.
Vaughan, a 6-foot-8 forward and Monmouth University commit, also missed time during the first half of the season due to injury.
Myers said MMA’s depth has allowed the Colonels to stay fresh, and its reliance on its size on defense and on the boards should help mitigate any late-season fatigue and the impact it has on the offensive end.
“When you’re a jump-shooting team like we were last year, which we tried to recruit a little different this year for that, your guys get tight and you gotta shoot jumpers and your legs are gone and it’s late in the season,” Myers said. “This year … we’ve done a better job of attacking the basket, getting offensive rebounds, getting defensive rebounds, and I think that’s kind of our thing is we’re a defensive team that can obviously get in the paint on offense. And then our offense, when it’s really going, we’re really good. But I think our defense hopefully can carry us where we’ve been more of an offensive scoring team the last couple times.”