VYPE U: Is Acton Bound for a Third Championship Appearance?
The Acton Academy Eagles Basketball team, led by Coach Ben Bazan and Chris Fisher, have made the TAIAO Division II State Championship in each of the past two years, coming within 10 points of victory in both games. However, since their first appearance in 2020, the Eagles have lost all of their starters and only have three players still on the team from that first run. This raises the question: do the Eagles have the talent to make a third straight finals run this upcoming season. The best player and younger of the two team captains, Ian Watson-Hemphill, seems to think so.
In our interview, Ian said that the team will continue to progress as it has in past years and that will allow them to achieve a third consecutive trip to state. Additionally, he believes the change in the team's tactics from a more free-flowing style, to a more structured playbook, will help the team stay disciplined and on task throughout the game. When asked what the key to victory would be for the team next year, the captain responded by saying the ability to stay consistent and keep runs to a minimum will propel the team to elite status.
Starting small forward Donovan O'Leary shared his captain's sentiment, stating that if team chemistry and energy continue to improve as they have the past few seasons, then the team will be in as good of a position, if not better, than last year. Donovan added that he believes the work the new team captains are putting in to bring the team closer will also lead to an increase in trust next year.
Last year's team captain Luca Celestino seemed a little more skeptical of the team's chance for another championship game appearance, pointing out that the team's talent is as low as it has been in a long time, and a lot of the players on the team next year are early in their development. However, Luca then added that he believes if the starters scoring output increases as well as the overall assist rate, then the team could make another run.
This team's success will be decided on the defensive side of the ball as all five players that will start for the Eagles can guard multiple positions with the older of the two team captains, Patrick O'Leary, able to guard one through five at an elite level, demonstrated by the fact that when he was guarding the best players from UME Prep in the championship game, he only allowed two points. Additionally, the superb paint defense Ian provides at the center position and the overall intelligence of the team will allow them to run a variety of defenses during a game.
The Acton Academy Eagles truly have a chance to make a third straight championship game, cementing its place as a Division 2 powerhouse, despite having an enrollment of under 25 students. For that to happen, though, both two-way star Ian Watson Hemphill and defensive maestro Patrick O'Leary will have to show superb leadership and the team will have to bond like few at this level have done before. If there is a team that can do it, I believe this team can. In the end, only time will tell, and I can't wait to see what story will be painted.