Vista Basketball Turns Local Talent Into School History
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For the second time in a relatively short 11-year school history, the Vista del Lago boys basketball team advanced to both the Sac-Joaquin Section (SJS) finals and the Division III State Tournament.
The last time an Eagle team advanced this far in the postseason was back in 2009-2010, when head coach Jeff Bridges led his squad to an impressive record of 28-4 and an even more impressive
state ranking of 61. Seven years later, Vista returned to the SJS Section Championship, this time sporting a record of 23-8 under two-year head coach Tim Weir.
Despite all of the differences between the two teams, whether it be the head coach, roster or record, one thing has remained constant over all of the seasons of Vista del Lago basketball: the players are all local.
High school sports has not only become extremely competitive, but also extremely profitable. It is increasingly appealing for high school coaches to attempt to “poach” players from other schools and cities in order to accumulate enough talent to establish a dominant program. Private and prep schools have their own advantages as well, as they can bypass certain rules regarding recruiting by reaching out to players in the same way an admissions office can recruit non-athlete students to enroll. This, as a result, has lead to a decline in the success of public schools in high school sports.
However, it works the other way as well, with certain players switching schools until they find themselves on a team capable of competing for a section or even state championship. “A quick glance at any list of top recruits will show that many of them, particularly in basketball, are on their second or third high school by the time they reach their senior year,” writes Jim Halley, reporter for USA Today High School Sports.
That isn’t to say that players who “shop” schools are committing any violations, but it further shows the impact that established programs can have on sucking up talent outside of their local area. At some point, competition among schools will start to lack legitimacy, and the stacking of teams will begin to disintegrate the authenticity of competition that has been pure at the high school level for so long.
However, occasionally, a team can find success with a purely “local” roster. That is the story of Vista del Lago.
After being defeated by the Capital Christian Cougars in the section championship, the runner-ups quickly bounced back in the state tournament, earning the second seed in the Northern California bracket and advancing through the first two rounds, becoming the most successful team in Vista del Lago history. The Eagles ended their season with a tough defeat to Vanden in the third round of the state tournament, the same team that Vista had upset in the section tournament in their first meeting this season.
And while the chance to chase a title is noteworthy, it is how the team got there that is most deserving of recognition. The core of this year’s varsity team grew up together, in Folsom, playing with one another on both recreational and club teams, as well as the Folsom Middle School basketball team. This is the case particularly for the senior players, many playing in their pre-high school years for the original team of the feeder program for Vista del Lago basketball, the Vista Talons.
“I remember in middle school we would all be playing in the same program, playing against each other at the sports complex or hardwood palace, so it’s been a while,” said senior guard Will Fitzpatrick
After years of playing and grinding on the hardwood together, many members of the squad have developed a unique chemistry and familiarity with one another. For some, it was the ultimate reason for attending school together. “Not only to just play basketball, but because we are all friends off the court had a big roll in why I came to Vista,” said senior guard Luke Avdalovic.
It is clear that the connection between the players has had a great impact on the Eagles historic season. Only losing two seniors coming into this basketball season, the once inexperienced Vista team has now settled in as a skilled, veteran team that has put its name in the school record book on multiple occasions. “Chemistry does have an effect on doing well, but I think it’s that we all recognize that we can do big things and we know where we can be, so we just think, why not reach those goals,” said Avdalovic.
It is the belief of being able to do big things that has propelled this eagle team to rise to the level of some of the top schools in California. As a decade-old public school in a sport dominated by preps and privates, members of the team are well aware that their success is both rare and exceptional, despite facing certain disadvantages when it comes to recruiting and drawing talent. “I think in a sense, we do face limitations since we don’t always get the most athletic players. But, it kind of gives us a chip on our shoulders to go out and prove that we’re better than a lot of these schools that do recruit,” said senior guard Brannon Olive.
As the high school careers of the team’s seniors end, it goes without mentioning that their impact on Vista goes beyond the numbers put up on the floor. They have brought recognition and publicity to the school, earning the respect of coaches, players and members of the media throughout the Sacramento area. They have turned a once passive student body into a frenzy of passionate and die-hard fans who travel miles to watch their team. And perhaps most importantly, they have created a culture of school pride and excitement, something that can take decades to develop in new schools.