What a difference a year makes. After the first four games to begin the 2019-20 season, the Ponte Vedra Sharks were a woeful 1-3; outscored by their opponents by a whopping 71 points in their three losses.
The worm turned after the first five games last season with the call up to the varsity of a pair of sophomores (Luke Pirris and JT Kelly) and a freshman (Nate Bunkosky). That trio, combined with Alex Madson, Jack Polian and Rory Mayer, gave the Sharks their six leading performers from the previous year.
Now a veteran squad, the Sharks have exploded out of the gates by winning their first four contests this season, with all victories achieved by double-figure margins. The first three games to open the campaign were played on the road before the Sharks returned home Friday to make Bartram Trail their fourth victim.
After pounding Stanton Prep 58-30 in their Nov. 24 opener, the Sharks defeated Palm Coast 51-41 on Dec 1, and then followed with a 47-32 victory over Menendez. Coach Kevin Whirity’s cagers then made last week a complete success by disposing of rival Bartram Trail 57-47 on their home court.
Although the Sharks, who averaged 44 points per game last season, and have now improved this season’s output by 12 points each outing, it is on the defensive side of the ball where the Sharks have been most impressive. The athletic Sharks have slammed the door on their first four opponents by giving up a miniscule 40 points each contest.
Each game seemingly has seen a different player take center stage during the current hot streak. Displaying the added depth of this year’s squad, two players came off the bench to spark a Shark victory.
Kelly scored a career high 20 points in the Palm Coast victory, while senior Will Irwin scored 11 of his career-high 13 points in the win over Menendez.
Pirris, a 6-foot-4 junior who is days removed from being selected as a first team All-State performer on the PVHS football team, twice has led the Sharks in scoring, with 17 in the season opener against Stanton Prep. But he saved his best for last. On Friday night, Pirris singed the nets for a career-equaling best of 26 points. He also was a stalwart on defense as he held his 6-foot-10 opposing center scoreless while drawing four charging fouls.
Bunkosky, a sophomore, has been a steady performer in the early going and is one performer Whirity is reluctant to take off the court. With an average of 10 points a game, Bunkosky is a lockdown defender on defense and leads the team in assists and steals. Adding valuable depth to the Shark attack this season has been a pair of seniors, Rory Mayer and Jack Polian, who have played valuable roles with their rebounding and tenacious defense. Still waiting in the wings is promising freshman, 6-foot-5 Ethan Reinheimer, who has played well thus far in limited action.
Ponte Vedra will take the short jaunt tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 11) when it tangles with arch-rival Nease. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, seating will be at a premium and very limited. Earlier in the week, and after the Recorder went to press, the Sharks had a pair of games with Fleming Island and St. Joseph.