Quiet Confidence Guides Mid Vermont Duo

Mid Vermont Christian School boys basketball coach Brian Sayers guides his team during a timeout on Jan. 14 against the Sharon Academy. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Mid Vermont Christian School boys basketball coach Brian Sayers guides his team during a timeout on Jan. 14 against the Sharon Academy. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Quechee — Brian Sayers wouldn’t have expected it to come from his son’s mouth but, sure enough, it did.

As the head coach of the Mid Vermont Christian School boys basketball team recalled this week, the words emanated from junior Austin Sayers as the two were headed home from a recent game.

“Just out of the blue, he says to me, ‘I think we can get to Barre,’ ” the elder Sayers noted after a Tuesday workout. “I haven’t mentioned that to the kids since the first day of practice.”

Rather than the words of a braggart, however, the junior’s statement reflected what the Eagles’ coach hopes to hear from anyone putting on an MVCS uniform in athletic competition. That they came out of the mouth of the tiny Quechee school’s first career 1,000-point scorer in Vermont Principals Association play only underlined the point.

“My mentality with the kids is to try to get them to think ambitiously,” Sayers said. “I’ve observed with young people today that they kind of lack the ambition to achieve the things beyond what they can imagine. I think, when you play competitively like that, you force kids to do things that they might think they’re not capable of. …

“(Austin) has adopted that mentality of ambition. That tells me he’s thinking, ‘I want to achieve, with this group of guys, as much as we can achieve.’ He’s thinking ambitiously, and I like that.”

That Austin Sayers creased 1,000 points as a junior is a matter of opportunity as well as ability.

The plateau-topping moment came Friday night in a 60-47 win at Black River, when the guard — with a substitute waiting to end his night — stole a ball at midcourt and sailed to a layup. It capped a 23-point evening for Sayers, who is averaging just over 22 points a game heading into tonight’s home rematch with the Presidents.

MVCS will take an 11-4 mark and a six-game winning streak into that contest. Where the Eagles go from here will partially be a matter of ambition.

“I definitely think we have improved quite a bit, and we’re passing a bit better,” Austin Sayers said. “We’re knowing each others strengths and weaknesses. I have noticed improvement out of a ton of the other guys as well.

“Our first game — we played West Rutland — and I scored 29 of our 37 points, I think. We haven’t had a game like that since.”

The Eagles’ progress mirrors that of their junior scorer, who has been able to play varsity basketball since eighth grade because of the school’s miniscule numbers.

Back in 2009-10, the MVCS boys engaged a mishmash schedule of high schools, town teams and Christian schools. The future was already in place with the Eagle girls, whom Brian Sayers took over as coach in part because his oldest daughter, Alisha, was on the team.

“When I agreed to coach the girls was when the school started thinking about VPA play,” said Sayers, who lives in Windsor and who is the pastor at Plainfield’s Red Barn Church. “I knew we had a pretty decent group of girls, and I told Bob Bracy, the headmaster, that if I was going to coach, I wanted to make these girls competitive at a certain level. …

“They agreed to put together a VPA schedule, and the boys followed suit a couple of years later. Except for Austin’s eighth-grade year, where we had that mixed schedule just because of our age, we’ve been trying to play a VPA schedule ever since then.”

Still, the MVCS coach didn’t expect the MVCS scoring leader to build on his numbers this winter, especially given that 6-foot-6 center Eli Seale had graduated. The coach made the mistake of saying as much to the scorer, who is putting five more points per game on the scoreboard than he did during last winter’s 14-6 campaign.

“About seven games in, he took the liberty of pointing that out,” the coach said, grinning. “It was definitely unintentional, but I’m thrilled because it’s been so fun to watch.”

The developments of the past week indicate that Mid Vermont is finally breaking its give-the-ball-to-Austin-and-watch-him-make-magic habits.

The Eagles hadn’t lost since neighbor Sharon Academy laid a 52-45 defeat on them 2½ weeks ago when the two squads reunited on Monday. In the waning seconds of a tie game, junior guard Anthony LaPlaca penetrated the center of the Phoenix’s defense, then kicked the ball out to junior Shane Li for a 17-foot corner jumper with 5 seconds left that gave MVCS a 56-54 win. Sophomore James King also hit a key basket in the victory.

“No discredit to Eli, but it has opened the floor a little bit more,” Austin noted. “We’ve got to definitely use our wings a lot more. It’s more of a scrappy offense, not as dominant as Eli was.”

The best part: “Austin didn’t get a touch in that possession,” Brian Sayers said.

Now the Sayers, father and son, coach and 1,000-point scorer, are looking forward. The MVCS girls made a surprise run to the VPA Division IV semifinals — in Barre — five winters ago. The boys have only played in two state tournaments, losing in the opening round both times, but they believe the potential is there.

As Austin Sayers was making school history, his teammates found their ambition. It’s now up to all of the Eagles to see how far they can fly.

“The Bible says, ‘Whatever you do, do it with all your might,’ ” Brian Sayers said. “That’s a mentality that we want the kids to learn and to exhibit on the floor. Basketball, and sports, is a great way to do that.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.