Basketball season isn’t over just yet. Not for the Flathead Valley Home School team.
After steamrolling through the regular season and winning their second state championship in three years, the Crusaders are stretching their aspirations. The local squad is competing at the 22nd annual National Christian Home School Championships, March 18-23, in Springfield, Mo. The best home school teams in the country meet at the tournament every year to play for an undisputed national title. Last year’s event attracted 352 teams of all age groups. Flathead Valley Home School is ranked 13th among more than 100 high school teams vying for a trophy this year.
“We’re confident as a team. There will be some really good competition down there but we’re a good team, too,” said senior Jake Van Buren, who led the team in scoring with Joshua Jarvis at 16 points per game. “It’s an amazing feeling. A team from Kalispell, Montana, going to play at the national home school tournament.”
This is the first time the Crusaders are traveling to the event in a decade. The 2003-04 state championship teams advanced to one of the bracket’s final division matchups before being eliminated.
Jarvis, a senior guard, said he remembers watching his older brothers play on those vaunted FVHS teams and imagined one day following in their footsteps.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I was 5,” Jarvis said.
This latest group of united home school players has forged its own memorable identity, though.
Despite graduating two starters from last year’s state runner-up team, the Crusaders reassembled a balanced lineup of six seniors and four juniors.
For motivation, head coach Timothy Peterson had plenty at his disposal. Last year’s team had its sights on a second straight Montana Christian Athletic Association state championship. The Crusaders advanced to the title game for the fourth year in a row but lost to local Stillwater Christian 29-25.
“The kids thought they were going to take it and I think they got a little too prideful,” head coach Timothy Peterson said. “But like it says, when you get a little bit of pride, there comes a fall. This year they took on a humble role.”
Easier said than done.
With a blistering offense and stingy defense, the Crusaders rolled through this season, losing only four games, including a narrow defeat against a talented Class AA junior varsity team. They averaged 70 points per game and surpassed 100 points twice. They flattened Great Falls Home School 65-7 and beat Foothills Community Christian, which won back-to-back state championships in 2009-10, by lopsided scores of 72-48 and 72-50. The team’s only losses came against defending champ Stillwater Christian, Mount Ellis Academy in Bozeman, a local adult men’s league team and Missoula Hellgate’s JV team. Hellgate was ranked No. 1 in Class AA at one point and four varsity players competed in the game against FVHS. Hellgate won 48-42.
“This year the kids had to keep humble because almost every win was by 20 or 30 points,” Peterson said. “They learned how to keep pushing it even when you’re that far ahead.”
Stillwater provided the Crusaders a stern wake-up, which Peterson looks back on and describes as a blessing in disguise.
FVHS trounced Stillwater 59-37 earlier in the year but when it came time to play on the Cougars’ home court the roles reversed. The Cougars dismantled the Crusaders 53-34 only a few weeks before the state tournament.
“When we lost to Stillwater that really lit a fire,” Van Buren said.
“They needed that loss,” Peterson added. “It really motivated them. They came out and all tried to play individual games and they found out it doesn’t work that way.”
The boys regrouped and regained their swagger just in time for the state tournament. And for the third year in a row, when it came down to the final two teams, only FVHS and Stillwater were left standing.
FVHS held Stillwater to two points in the first quarter and seven points in the second. Abram French scored a team-high 16 points and the Crusaders claimed a 56-31 victory and the championship. FVHS and Stillwater have combined to win seven of the last 11 boys basketball titles in the MCAA.
“At the end of the season we were playing great team basketball,” Jarvis said. “We really wanted it. It’s been a lot of fun this year. The most fun I’ve had.”
Jarvis hopes to play at the next level after graduating and has an impressive resume to show colleges. He nearly averaged a quadruple double this year, with 16 points per game, 12 assists, 11 rebounds and eight steals.
The Crusaders boast a tall lineup, with four players 6-foot-3 or taller. French towers highest at 6-6 while Josiah Sheeran reaches 6-5, Ryland Carlson stands 6-4 and Stephen Wilkins is 6-3.
But if there’s one defining trait of these Crusaders, and if there’s one aspect that could lead the team closer to a national championship, it’s their defense. That’s what other coaches and fans kept marveling at to Peterson throughout the season.
“When the other coaches say that, it makes you proud,” Peterson said. “We’ve always stressed that you can tell the heart of a kid by how they play defense. Anybody can shoot the ball, but it takes a certain kid with a good heart to play good hard defense.”
The Flathead Valley Home School team is raising money for its trip to the national championship tournament and is holding fundraisers leading up to the event. For more information call Diane Van Buren at 250-6037 or email [email protected].
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