Grant Sareyka (above) and The Christian Academy are now 14-3 (11-0 BAL) after beating Dock on Friday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Success has been a long time coming for The Christian Academy’s senior class. A dozen years, in fact.
That’s when Jourdan Greene, Dom Jones and Sam Geathers started as first-graders at the small Brookhaven private school, becoming the first pieces of a Crusaders team that’s currently aiming for a Bicentennial Athletic League title. They were joined in fourth grade by Isaiah Mitchell, and by the time they got to ninth grade, were joined by Grant Sareyka, Parris Jones, Isaiah Dickson and Tahmir Phillips.
Over the years, they’ve built up a tremendous bond, shared on the court and off it, in games and classrooms, during study sessions and freestyle rap sessions at the back of the team bus on road trips. It’s a chemistry that allows them to play an uptempo, free-flowing (if not sometimes a little wild) style of hoops, to enjoy their time together, and to possibly achieve something no TCA squad has done before.
“We want to keep our friendship going after high school, and be buddies for the rest of our lives, basically,” Greene said. “We talk about that a lot.”
As seventh and eighth graders, they were unbeaten in the middle school circuit, according to Greene and high school varsity head coach Malik Walker.
This year, they’re trying their best to replicate that success.
After a 64-55 win over Dock Mennonite on Friday night, TCA is now 14-3 on the season –– not quite a perfect season, but pretty darn close. More importantly, they’re still a flawless 11-0 in the Bicentennial Athletic League after knocking off the Pioneers (12-4, 9-1), who had been the only other team without a defeat in the Delaware Valley’s small-school league.
“Not to sound cocky, we did come in confident,” Walker said. “We have eight seniors, so these guys have been through the ropes.
“All preseason, we’ve been preaching to these guys, it’s the last hurrah, so why not go out on top?” the fourth-year head coach added. “Right now, we sit in a position to make that happen.”
It’s quite a jump up from an 11-11 season a year ago, which saw the Crusaders lose in the BAL quarterfinals and miss out on the District 1 Class A tournament, finishing sixth in the district power rankings with only the top four qualifying for districts.
Malik Walker (above) in his four year as TCA's head coach, and 13th overall. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
If there was any doubt about how for real TCA was, those doubts were laid to rest on Friday, when they made the trip up the Northeast Extension to Dock’s middle school –– the Pioneers host one game each year at their lower-school campus –– and topped a program that’s been one of the best of the BAL under head coach Mike Fergus.
Playing in front of a small-but-feisty pro-Dock crowd (with some TCA supporters as well), the Crusaders imposed their up-tempo, frantic brand of basketball on the Pioneers, who had too many turnovers to mount a significant comeback after falling behind by double digits in the second half.
“It was a huge game, and we knew that coming in,” said Sareyka, who led all scorers with 22 points. “We prepared all week for a big game, and we knew it was going to be their fans chirping the whole game, their team chirping the whole game. We just came out, played our game, and did what we needed to do to win the game.”
Sareyka, one of the top scorers in Delaware County, had a slow start, making only one shot in the first half, though his team lead 30-23. But the 6-2 guard got it going in the second half, hitting 5-of-7 shots and all four of his free-throws for 15 of his 22, contributing six rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Green, a 6-6 forward, had 16 points and nine rebounds. Mitchell, a 6-0 guard and typically Sareyka’s complementary scorer, only had four points on an off night from the floor but added eight rebounds and five assists.
“Yeah a couple teams have been playing up on me...and if they want to do that, that’s fine, because we have a lot of assets on our team, and everybody can do something,” Sareyka said. “It’s a great group of guys. We love playing with each other and you know, that’s what does it for us.”
TCA has five more games to close out the year, all in Bicentennial play, before the league’s playoffs get underway with a seeded 16-team bracket the week of Feb. 10.
No matter what, as the current No. 1 seed in the district rankings, their season is guaranteed to continue, with just one win separating them from the school’s first-ever state playoff berth.
After that, anything can happen.
“That’s the No. 1 goal, is to get these guys to have the best success they could possibly get,” Walker said. “I’ve watched them come up, and now to have them out here giving me their all...I keep saying it’s a beautiful thing, it is, that’s what it is, and I’m just ecstatic right now.”
Dock: 12 | 11 | 14 | 18 | 55
TCA: 7 | 23 | 14 | 20 | 64
Dock: Jainlett 14, Martin 13, Ellis 11, St. Fleur 9, Wilder 6, Kuhn 2
TCA: Sareyka 22, Greene 16, Geathers 9, D. Jones 5, P. Jones 5, Mitchell 4, Phillips 3