Junior guard Robbie Kemmerer is one of several Freedom players who should improve markedly this season.

Potomac District Boys Preview: Freedom seeks to repeat

The excitement within the Potomac District can be summed up by Freedom High School winning on a last second buzzer-beater in quadruple overtime to claim last year’s tourney title. While that will be hard to top, there is plenty of talent returning throughout the division for the 2018-2019 season, so we can expect another thrilling year.

Last year the Freedom Eagles took the Potomac District by storm as they only lost one district game during their record-setting campaign, led by the now-graduated guard and player of the year, Zyan Collins. This year they’ll look to repeat their success, but fellow Potomac District powerhouses Stone Bridge and Potomac Falls will be right there with them battling for the top spot. Tuscarora, Broad Run and Champe will all look to rebound after having inconsistent seasons last year, while Briar Woods and Rock Ridge will aim to break their streaks of losing seasons.

Freedom-South Riding (13-10) (22-4) – The Eagles are coming off their best season in school history and will look to capture their third district title in a row. Coach Justin Powers was last season’s Coach of the Year award recipient and he believes the team has the potential to pick up where they left off last season. There will be a significant void to fill as the Eagles lost five of their top six players from last season including Collins, Hunter Oakford and Jeremy Cofield, but Coach Powers believes the roster is still deep with talent. Certainly 6’5″ junior swingman Lance Johnson is a heck of a good example of that.

“Despite losing four starters, there is still a lot of talent that remains,” Coach Powers said. “We have a few kids that were role players last year who have worked extremely hard to improve their skill level as well as their overall strength and athleticism. They are excited for their opportunity this year to show people what they can do, both individually and as a group. I think we will surprise a lot of people because teams will think we are down because of all the players that graduated. Our conference will be very competitive top to bottom, so time will tell, but I think we can play with any of them.”

Coach Powers also reflected on the success of the program in recent years and said that the credit was due to all the coaches and players that contributed to the culture as a whole.

“Last year was a great season and we accomplished a lot,” Coach Powers said. “We have instilled a hard-working and winning mindset in our program. Two years ago we won 19 games in 4A and I was voted Coach of the Year in our other conference. When we transitioned from 4A to 5A we didn’t know how we would do against the 5A schools because we knew it would be tougher competition for us. Winning Coach of the Year the first time was a great feeling, but to move up to a new conference with a totally different group of coaches and still get recognized was a great honor. With all that being said, I don’t win that award without the hard work by my coaching staff and my players. It was just a great year by all involved. Hopefully this year we can be just as successful or even advance further.”

Potomac Falls (10-4) (20-7) – The Potomac district could go anyone’s way considering how many talented teams there are within the conference, but if I had to pick a favorite for this season it would be Potomac Falls.

The Panthers are loaded with talent – senior forward Ian Anderson was named first team All-District and second team VHSL 5A All-State last season and junior forward Landon Hawes earned second team All-District honors. They also have a core of experienced seniors – Peter White, Connor Birch, and Hayden Hawes – who can step into the game and contribute on both ends of the court.

Potomac Falls' Ian Anderson is a 20/10 guy for Jeff Hawes' team.
Potomac Falls’ Ian Anderson is a 20/10 guy for Jeff Hawes’ team.

Coach Jeffrey Hawes has an established winning culture, as he’s accumulated more than 350 wins since he began coaching the Panthers in 1997. That includes two AA state championships. So as long as he’s on the sidelines, Potomac Falls has a strong shot at the district. Coach Hawes knows his team has what it takes to make a deep run this season.

“We are very excited about our possibilities this season,” Coach Hawes said. “We pride ourselves on defense and depth and hope to be in the mix come tournament time in late February.”

Briar Woods (4-10) (9-14) – Briar Woods basketball hasn’t had a winning record since 2014, but this year the Falcons will look to break that streak with the help of their new head coach, Derek Butler. Butler was previously an assistant coach for the Loudoun County High School boys basketball team for the past two seasons. He was also the Head Coach of the Millbrook high school boys basketball team from 2013-2016, where he earned a 45-28 record during his three seasons leading the Pioneers.

The Falcons will return second team All-District junior guard Will Shin, senior guard Nick Conway, senior guard Hunter Auch and junior guard Aidan Clark. Coach Butler believes that the work done throughout the offseason will translate onto the court.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but the number of student-athletes that have dedicated themselves this off-season is very promising. If we continue to work hard and stay committed, we hope to get better every day.”

Tuscarora (7-7) (13-12) – The Huskies are one of the more unpredictable teams going into the season. Last year they ended the regular season in the middle of the pack with a fourth-place finish, and their season concluded with a loss to Thomas Edison high school in the 5C regional quarterfinal.

The Huskies’ all-time leading scorer, Alex Bailey, has graduated and the team will look to first team All-District senior guard Chandler Tuten to carry a heavier workload this season. They’ll also be without one of their talented guards from last season, Jared Cross, who transferred to St Stephens & St. Agnes.

Fifth-year head coach Allen Smith has been known for his fast-paced, high-scoring and highly efficient teams. The Huskies appear to have already showcased those roots as they shot lights out in their first scrimmage against John Handley. Tuscarora will look to become contenders once again after its 13-12 finish last season, which is a fall off compared to their 37-15 record over the two years prior.

Broad Run (6-8) (7-15) – Last year Broad Run endured only its third losing season in John Costello’s nine years as head coach of the Spartans. They’ll also be without one of their leading scorers from last season, second team All-District guard Spencer Payne, who graduated in the spring.

The Spartans showed flashes of athleticism and team chemistry in their season opening scrimmage against a tough Loudoun Valley team. The Spartans will need to establish the ability to close games early on in the season in order to become contenders for the district once again.

Rock Ridge (2-12) (7-16) – The Phoenix were moved up from 4A to 5A last season and their inaugural year proved to be a challenge as they finished last in the district. But don’t let last year’s record count them out. The team had five games last season where they lost by a basket, and they also held fourth quarter leads in seven of their losses. They’ll return four of their five starters from last season including second team All-Region senior guard Alex Fitch, who averaged 20 points a game last year and is easily one of the most exciting players in the district.

Rock Ridge guard Alex Fitch  can pour in the points for the Phoenix.
Rock Ridge guard Alex Fitch can pour in the points for the Phoenix.

There will certainly still be some more growing pains during their second season in 5A, but Coach Jay Geyer believes his team has significantly improved during the offseason.

“Last season was difficult moving up to 5A from 4A,” Coach Geyer said. “Record wise we were not where we wanted to be. We had a lot of new players on our team so it took us too long to gel. We didn’t start really competing until our Christmas tournament. However, by January, we were a pretty tough team. We got beat up on the boards and gave teams about 10 more shots a game than we took, [but] we got stronger and tougher in the last year.”

Coach Geyer also pointed out that the team is coming into this season with much more experience that will help finish games. “We had three freshmen playing varsity who will now step in and really be able to contribute more,” Coach Geyer said. “The hope is that we have learned from our mistakes and have enough experience to win the close games that we lost last season.”

Stone Bridge (11-3) (16-9) – Similar to Freedom, Stone Bridge is another team that will have to define itself early on in the season after graduating some key players like Ben Kling and James DiLuigi. The Bulldogs will still be led by senior guard Evan Buckley, who already averaged nearly 15 points a game last season, but he will now have to step into a bigger scoring role. Buckley should have no problem assuming a bigger role as he is a Division I caliber player and he already has offers from Yale, Columbia, University of Vermont, Bucknell, George Mason and many more schools.

Alongside Buckley will be another exciting scorer, junior Isaiah Rhodes, who set a Stone Bride record last season with 10 made threes in a single game against Briar Woods.

Going into his fifth year with the program, Stone Bridge basketball head coach Corey Stitzel will look to continue the success that he’s had with the Bulldogs and capture another conference title.

Champe (8-11) (10-15) – At times last season Champe high school was very inconsistent, however the Knights caught fire towards the end of the season with an upset win over Stone Bridge in the quarter finals of the conference tournament. If Champe can continue the level of basketball they displayed towards the end of the season, they have a real chance at competing for the district title.

Their first team All-District wing Tyler Savage will look to improve after having a terrific sophomore season where he averaged over 15 points per game.

–TJ Davis