Zion Chapel doesn’t have time to celebrate its first varsity boys area championship in many years.
Daleville is coming to town Tuesday night.
Rebels head coach Jared Robison said incomplete data stops him from declaring it as 100 percent fact, “but the best we’ve been able to determine is this is their first area championship since 1986. That team made an Elite Eight appearance.”
Zion Chapel (15-14) defeated Goshen on the road in the area title game last Friday. The Rebels were 3-9 after losing three games in the Rehobeth Holiday Classic in mid-December. They closed their pre-Christmas holiday run with a three-game winning streak and continued to get better as the season unfolded.
“They’ve continued just to grow and work hard,” Robison said Monday morning about his team. “They’ve focused on the task at hand, taken each game one at a time and stayed focused on doing the things we do, playing the game the way we play it.”
Zion Chapel has done the “little things” well. They rebound the basketball. They harass you on defense.
“We understand there are nights we’re going to be really on offensively and there are nights when we’re not,” the coach said. “The defensive end of the floor is something we can do every night. We can give effort. It starts there. We work hard and my kids are what I call ‘grinders.’ They find a way to win.”
With a 15-14 record, Zion Chapel not only knows how to win, but the Rebels stay composed after losses.
“Our approach to losses is that’s a learning experience,” Robison said. “It’s a chance to learn from it, move on and get better. We’ve done that all season.
“We have let any win dictate and linger into the next game, but we also have not let any loss be bigger than what it is. Learn from it, stay focused and go compete in the next one. Just like today, we’re very excited about what we’ve accomplished, but it’s Monday now and that’s over with. We have to focus on Daleville 100 percent. Our kids will do that.”
The visiting Warhawks (17-10), who lost 74-73 to Geneva County for the 2A, Area 3 championship, will present matchup problems.
“They’re a very fast and athletic team and really can push the ball up the floor quickly,” Robison said. “They use that athleticism on both ends. We have to be patient in our game. Play our style. We’ll have to dictate the speed of the game. If you let them speed you up, it’s going to be a long night for you. They have the capability of doing that.
“They’re very talented, they play in a challenging area. They’ve had challenges all year. They will be ready to play us at our place.”
The coach said his team’s seniors — Joey McCrory, Nate Grantham, Billy Heap and Jacob Anderson — have put the team first, even at the expense of their own playing time.
“Joey played huge in the area tournament for us. He scored 19 points, was relentless going after rebounds and hustle plays,” Robison said. “That’s been him the whole time’s played for me, but it really showed up in the area. It was like he found an extra level in that game.”
Grantham, who has started every game, has been a consistent, level-headed producer.
The coach added Heap and Anderson have been great role players.
“With some of the younger talented they may not have had the most playing time, but they’ve had unselfish attitudes the whole year. They do everything the right way,” he said. “It’s all about the team’s success, it’s not about just them. That’s the attitude that those four seniors bring to every single thing we do. It’s not just attitude, though. When they’ve gotten their moments they’ve executed big for us in games.”
The younger players have had a huge impact, starting with junior point guard Bryce Watson, who is in his first full season on the varsity.
“He’s really developed well in that role and plays with a fire about him and can get us into offense any time, any place,” Robison said.
Sophomore Brady Cobb is the team’s leading scorer, a shooting guard. Another sophomore, Cole McDaniel, has developed into a difference-maker on the boards and on the defensive end.
McDaniel (6-foot-6) and Connor Kelley (6-3) have given Zion Chapel is solid inside game.
“Connor and Cole together have made a real presence for us on the inside and have given us a real height advantage in a lot of games,” Robison said. “You can’t coach height.”
The coach said his team’s composure has been impressive in its 12-5 record since mid-December.
“They never think they’re out of a game. They always believe in what they’ve done, the work they’ve put in and what we’ve coached them to do. They go out and execute that, which makes them a tough team to play against,” Robison said.
“It’s just a good group of guys who have really bought in. It’s their work and it’s their efforts and their attitudes that have gotten us this far.”