By Evan Mantel; pictures by Gabrielle Ryan. Originally published in PHC Herald, 2/26/10.
Patrick Henry College
The 2009-2010 PHC Men's Sentinels. From L to R, Coach Bruce Campbell, Brett Harris, Adam Fisher, Jordan Sillars, Jason Lloyd, Atticus Freeland, Jensen Near, Alex Harris, James Nelson, Martyn Evans, James Barta, Jacob Parrish, Adam Reiley, Cordell Asbenson
As the clock slowly ebbed towards 0.0, their stoic faces and blank stares said it all. The Patrick Henry College Sentinels trailed by an overwhelming margin in the Shenandoah Chesapeake Conference Tournament title game. Their season was ending, and they knew it.
For many programs, such a loss like would taint an otherwise groundbreaking season, but not at PHC. One year earlier, the school did not have a gym on campus let alone a winning record. Advancing this year to the conference championship game was a laudable accomplishment for a team still working hard to establish a bona fide basketball tradition. This year marked the Sentinels first-ever winning season in conference play.
Junior Adam Fisher (center white) works on offense
He viewed the loss as a sign that the program has further to go. The team’s motto this year -- ‘A tradition begins’ -- reflects that the team has four or five talented freshmen who will form the core of future teams.
Seniors James Barta and Near were joined in the fall by a stellar class of freshman talent, exemplified by Jordan Sillars and James Nelson. And along with this influx of talent, the Sentinels were able for the first time to practice in their new on-campus gym at the Barbara Hodel Center.
“Having guys like [Jordan] Sillars and [James] Nelson improved the caliber of the team, but they are still not going be as effective without a gym,” Near said.
“Isn’t it great that we get to play basketball today?” Near would ask his teammates during practice at the new gym. “Last season, we practiced 12 times at Leesburg Christian School; we beat that by September [this year].
“Having ten guys at practice more than four times a year is huge,” Near added, referring to the days of practicing twice a week at Leesburg Christian. “When you don’t have ten players you can’t run defensive drills. You also have a hard time running your offense. Without ten guys, it’s hard to have a basketball team at all.”
An excited audience raises its hands to call for silence during a free throw.
“That was where we improved our team defense,” Near said.
Freshman guard Jordan Sillars said that the practices helped people to embrace their roles on the team.
“The Harris brothers are good examples [of this],” Sillars said. “They embraced the role of perimeter defenders.”
Despite losing the championship, Near will carry many cherished memories from this year with him.
“Beating Christendom three straight [times] this year,” Near said, reflecting on some of his favorite memories of the year. “Probably, the best memory was opening night in the gym beating Washington Bible.”
The success of this year may not be a one-time event. The core of talented freshman should continue building on this year’s successes. Freshmen Jordan Sillars and James Nelson were starters, Asbenson was a regular in the rotation before his injury, and Jason Lloyd already has one of the softest finishes on the team.
“I think we’ll be at least as good as last year,” said Sillars. “The experience of playing together will make us a lot better.”