After Successful Season, MVCS Wants More
Mid Vermont Christian's Austin Sayers, left, drives past James King during basketball practice at the school gym in Quechee, Vt., on December 11, 2013. The team was the No. 2 seed in the Vermont Division IV last year. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Mid Vermont Christian's Thomas Weilen, left, competes with Panda Su for a rebound during basketball practice at the school gym in Quechee, Vt., on December 11, 2013. The team was the No. 2 seed in the Vermont Division IV last year. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee — Last season, Austin Sayers became the Mid Vermont Christian School boys basketball team’s first 1,000-point scorer, finishing his junior year with 1,125 career points and an Upper Valley-leading 23.7 points per game. This season, he’ll probably be even better.
Sayers — the son of MVCS coach Brian Sayers — spent the offseason vigorously practicing the game, especially over the summer when he joined the Upper Valley Warriors, a White River Junction-based AAU outfit.
Featuring primarily Hartford High athletes, the Warriors took on competitive programs from throughout the Twin States and beyond, allowing Sayers to refine his game to complement improved his physicality. Now a fit 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Sayers appears poised for another dominant season in Vermont Division IV.
“He’s bigger, stronger and quicker,” said Brian Sayers, in his fifth year coaching the Eagles’ boys program after three with the tiny school’s girls team. “He’s been in the weight room a lot and he’s more aggressive. He’s a tough guy to defend because he doesn’t hurt himself.”
Austin Sayers is a scoring threat both at the posts and from the outside, and Brian figures his son will be one of the toughest players in the division to defend.
“You can’t really put your bigs on him, because he has too much speed,” the elder Sayers said. “And if you put your speedy guys on him, he’s going to post you up. There might be three or four guys (in D-IV) who can guard him, but not many more than that.”
Mid Vermont had its best-ever season in 2012-13, winning 15 regular season games to earn the No. 2 seed. After dispatching Christian-school rival Websterville in the opening round, 64-42, the Eagles began the fourth quarter with a four-point lead over No. 7 Arlington in the quarterfinals. Arlington rallied to win, 50-38.
“Their coach beat us with the adjustments he made,” Brian Sayers said. “It was the second straight year we lost a playoff game after leading heading into the fourth quarter, so that was kind of disappointing.”
It was still a highly successful year for the Eagles, who celebrated Sayers’ milestone and captured their first-ever playoff win. Mid Vermont became a varsity program prior to the 2007-08 season.
“Our goal was to win 14 regular-season games, and we won 15, so that was big,” Austin Sayers said. “Another goal was winning a playoff game, and we did that. The goal this year would be to win one more playoff game, which would put us in Barre (for the state semifinals).”
Experience should help the Eagles, who return starters to all five positions. Point guard Anthony LaPlaca (6.0 ppg last year), shooting guard Joe Zhou (5.4 ppg) guard/forward Shane Li and forwards Panda Su and James King all return, as well as center Liam Cusack.
All saw significant minutes a year ago, when the Eagles at one point won eight in a row.
“Panda is really good at setting screens, and Cusack is a really hard worker who earns his starts,” Brian Sayers said. “Austin was the only guy who played AAU, but all of the other guys played pickup ball and came in with improved skill sets.
“We have a higher basketball IQ this year, the guys are just much smarter players and that can only help us.”
Mid Vermont should also have a new contributor in sophomore Thomas Weiler, a 5-foot-8 transfer from Websterville who averaged 14 points per game for the Warriors a year ago.
“His season high was 25 points as a freshman,” Brian Sayers said. “His parents moved down this way, which was a gift for us. He’s going to be our wild card.”
The Eagles may also benefit from a more difficult schedule this season. Unlike last year, they’ve got a pair on the docket against defending state champion Rochester, which went 23-1 a year ago and returns 1,000-point scorer Pavin Parrish. Mid Vermont also has two games lined up against D-IV finalist West Rutland and two against Chelsea, Sharon, Green Mountain Union and Craftsbury — all 10-game winners a season ago — and one against another 10-game winner in Proctor.
“It’s a much tougher schedule, which is only going to help us,” Austin Sayers said. “I wouldn’t say it was detrimental last year, that we didn’t play some of these teams, but having all of these (opponents) on our schedule certainly isn’t going to hurt.”
MVCS begins the season with four straight home games, beginning Saturday against Websterville.
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.