During his 10 seasons as the boys basketball coach at Westminster, Mark Tebbs has watched region rivals Augusta Christian and Brentwood build championship programs and make annual runs at state titles.
Three years ago, Tebbs thought he had something special with a talented group of underclassmen. Three years later, Tebbs and the Westminster program have continued to build upon that foundation and are beginning to see rewards from good team chemistry.
"I always thought as we got older, by having experience and playing together, I thought we would have the ability to mesh really well as upperclassmen," said guard Will Hudson, one of three seniors on the team.
"While we had a lot of potential talent when we were younger, it was just a matter of growing up."
The 2000-01 season already has been special for the Wildcats - the team has the most wins in school history (21) and its first unbeaten season at home. Even if Westminster, which plays the Augusta Christian-Trinity winner in the Region 4-AAA tournament Thursday night and already has qualified for the state tournament, doesn't make it much farther, the season will be memorable.
But the Wildcats (21-3) don't want it to stop now. With the school's state soccer title this season, the basketball team hopes to match the soccer team's success.
"Our athletic programs have progressed, and I think we're reaching a climax," said junior forward Bennett Ford, who was also a key member of the soccer team. "We've played together for so long, and we know each others playing style. I think we're breaking barriers the school hasn't crossed yet."
Tebbs said that in past years it always seemed like the Wildcats were a player or two away from becoming a powerhouse program. Even with former standouts such as Jeff Bone, Rok Smoka, David Cantrell and Chad Cook, the farthest Westminster ever made it in the state tournament was two appearances in the state quarterfinals.
With exchange student Sebastian Guenther, a 6-foot-9 senior post player from Berlin, Germany, moving in before the season, several players feel like he may be the missing piece of the puzzle.
"One of the biggest reasons (for our success) this year is because of Sebastian," senior forward Andrew Lehn said. "I think his inside play opened everything up. Teams try to double-team him on the inside, and that opens up our outside shooting."
Tebbs won't talk about it much, but he said he believes the Wildcats could go deep in the postseason if they can play consistently.
"I think there are about eight teams out there that have a good shot," Tebbs said. "You've got to have a little luck this time of the year and take it one game at a time. What's important is playing well this time of the year. We've got to put four quarters together."
Junior guard Derek Curry has started for the Wildcats since he was an eighth-grader. While he doesn't rule out the fact that Westminster can make a run at the postseason next year, he knows this year is an excellent opportunity.
"We've been to the Final 8, and I remember going there in seventh grade as a ball boy just to get a taste of what it was like," Curry said. "Our school tasted the glory, winning the state title in soccer. Now we want that in basketball, too."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.