As basketball seasons go, nothing we've experienced compares to 2021.
It's been stressful, uncertain and frustrating, for a lot of reasons. Things took another wild turn this weekend, when boys programs at E.C. Glass and Heritage shut down for the remainder of the season because of contact tracing.
But this season hasn't only been defined by the virus, despite the shadow it cast over the return of high school sports.
This was the year a new dynamic took hold in the Seminole District. More than at any other time in recent memory, veteran players clashed with talented underclassmen.
The seniors — their time now and their chances few — often willed their teams to victory and accomplished impressive feats. But the young guns weren't shy, and all throughout the district, they made their mark and gave us a glimpse of the future.
That's usually not the case. Varsity basketball in the district is ruled by juniors and seniors; underclassmen are mostly relegated to the JV level or to riding the varsity pine in the postseason.
But the freshmen and sophomores made an immediate impact on local basketball in 2021.
Consider E.C. Glass sophomore point guard O'Maundre Harris. After missing his team's first game, Harris made steady improvements the next few weeks. On Tuesday night, he reached new heights: a 25-point outpouring that also included 10 rebounds and seven assists, as Glass got revenge on Heritage. Harris averaged 20 points per game in his first varsity season.
He was joined by fellow sophomore Aidan Treacy, who scored 22 points in the shocking upset. Sophomore guard Zach Smith, who is destined for a bright career, averaged double figures and displayed pure shooting talent in his first varsity season. Then there's sophomore Camp Conner, who provided consistent play for the Hilltoppers throughout the abbreviated campaign. Those guys are part of an eight-man sophomore class in midtown that is the future of Seminole basketball.
Rustburg freshman Lawson Sweeney also made his mark. He put up 18 points in Thursday's loss to Altavista and was joined in double figures by another promising freshman, Tayvon Crider.
That same night, the E.C. Glass girls were led by sophomore Emily Williams, who drained seven 3-pointers against Brookville and finished with 23 points.
While most teams haven't relied heavily on underclassmen in recent years, the Glass girls are the exception. Point guard Jamiyah Henry and fellow guard Jeriyah Osborne both burst onto the varsity scene as freshmen, ready for the big stage, and helped turn Glass from pushover to powerhouse.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Liberty Christian boys squad. They were the Seminole's most consistent team this year, a 14-man roster comprised only of juniors and seniors. The starting seniors — Jalen Leftwich, Seth Hildebrand and Haddon Smith — are among the most talented players in all of Class 3.
So is Heritage's Jacobi Lambert. The senior who has more than 1,000 points to his name celebrated his Senior Night on Thursday by unloading a season-high 32 points. His team fell to LCA on a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but Lambert, playing in his final high school game, left his mark on Seminole basketball with the showing.
Other upperclassmen sparkled during this strange regular season, too. Amherst senior Brett Waugh (15 ppg) can shoot the lights out. LCA junior Sully Holmes, a 6-foot-3 pitcher verbally committed to Liberty University, can throw down rim-rocking dunks. Brookville's Tayshaun Butler (18.5 ppg) leads a seven-person junior class in Bees Country.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Jefferson Forest and Liberty, both veteran boys squads, because of coronavirus concerns in Bedford County about returning to play. With those teams in the mix, things might have been different in the Seminole this year. Maybe all the upperclassmen would have taken over and relegated the freshmen and sophomores to the sidelines.
Somehow, I don't think so. There's some legitimate talent coming up through the ranks right now, and it's impossible to ignore.
The young players are here to stay.