After completing their best start in school history with 13 wins and just one defeat, the Ponte Vedra Sharks are hoping the New Year will bring continued success for their program. Although the Sharks had lots of company during this unparalleled pandemic, they too were presented with many challenging obstacles.
Coach Kevin Whirity’s Sharks traveled to Creekside without four regulars, but persevered by defeating a one-loss Creekside team 46-38. Whirity got some welcome support from his reserves, including 13 points from senior Aiden Frien who had not even tallied a single point leading up to the tilt with Creekside.
Sporting a perfect 9-0 record and scheduled to appear in a holiday tournament beginning Dec. 21 at Orange Park, the Sharks were forced to cancel their 3-game outing due to COVID-19 exposure for an unknown number of players.
However, thanks to their friends at Clay County, the Sharks were last-minute invites to Clay County High’s Holiday Tournament. However, one more obstacle stood in the way: The tournament started on Dec. 28 and the Sharks were not cleared from quarantine until Dec. 29. In order to pave the way for the Sharks to compete, not only would the Sharks have to play two games on Tuesday, Dec. 29, but so would the host Blue Devils.
“While we were physically separated for 12 days, we kept in close contact via Zoom and even received words of encouragement from guest speakers,” Whirity said. “And the on the 12th day of Christmas, Clay High School graciously gave our Sharks the opportunity to reunite and jump back in the water head-first.”
The Sharks not only went 12 days without a game, but they went 12 days without a practice. In their opening game of the tourney, the Sharks understandably got off to a frigid start and trailed 14-6 after the first quarter. The Sharks recovered and rallied to defeat the Blue Devils 55-39 with junior Luke Pirris scoring a career-high 26 points.
The Sharks, after defeating Clay in a noon start, returned later that night to face their archrivals from Nease High School. It appeared the Sharks were in for a long night against the Panthers as they missed an unprecedented 19 consecutive attempts from 3-point range. Nease coach Josh Bailen had a superb game plan against the Sharks, who had defeated Nease 19 days earlier, 48-41. Clogging up the middle, to prevent patented Pirris drives to the rim paid off huge dividends for Nease as the Panthers held the Sharks’ leading scorer to a single field goal in a 43-41 win.
The Sharks trailed by 13 points with two minutes remaining in the contest when Whirity employed a desperate, but very effective, full-court press against Nease. Coming up with a number of steals and finally able to convert their only 3-pointers on the evening, the Sharks trailed by only two points with a half minute remaining in the game.
“Knowing the toughness of our guys, our staff didn’t bat an eye at playing two games in one day,” Whirity said. “However, the level of grit they put on display in the last minutes of their eighth quarter of the day even shocked me.”
The Sharks had a couple of good looks during the game’s final moments but neither of their shots for the win found their mark.
Not to be deterred with the loss against Nease, the Sharks returned to the court the next day and played perhaps their best game of the season, an impressive 65-49 victory over an athletic Orange Park team. Balanced scoring was the key for the Sharks as Pirris (19), Alex Madson (16) and sophomore Nathan Bunkosky (14) all were in double figures.
“While we’ve built a strong foundation, our challenges ahead will only intensify and necessitate an elevated level of play,” Whirity said. “We’re looking forward to increased practice time in the second half of the season.”
The Sharks returned to action this week with another busy three-game schedule. PVHS dominated Trinity Christian iin a 54-16 win on Monday night, and defeated Bolles 61-52 to on Tuesday, The Sharks will host Fletcher at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.