There are many factors in the equation that leads a team to a winning season. Teamwork, chemistry, a coachable spirit and a passion for the game are among the most important. But one factor is the glue that holds all the others together. Without this quality, team unity would be lessened. The team would not be able to flourish; the chances of producing a winning season would be next to impossible. This very important factor is leadership.
Among the many capable leaders on the Bruins men’s basketball squad were three seniors: Jason McVey, Evan Brondyke and Zach Mercado. These three players were recognized Tuesday night after the Bruins’ final regular-season game against Hiwassee College, with the Bruins winning 69-57. The game did not begin as hoped, and the visiting Tigers jumped out to an early 21-9 advantage over the Bruins. But the Bruins rallied behind leaders who refused to give up, a motif that appeared throughout the season. The Bruins pushed back with determined defense and flashes of offense, and soon the game was tied again after a definitive 3-pointer from Ray Holden.
“We play at our best when we are looking for each other and getting assists on offense,” McVey said. That, coupled with a turnaround in the second half regarding rebounds, accelerated the Bruins’ play and transformed a potentially bad game into a hard-fought victory with a strong finish. Competitive, physical defense is something the Bruins have stressed all season long, and playing hard and always fighting for the ball can have a major impact in games. McVey, during his two seasons as a Bruin, established himself as a tremendous defender. Hustling back in transition, relentlessly dogging his man and reaching in for a clean steal came to be characteristic of McVey. After the game, Coach Ring quoted a sign that was made for McVey by the fans: “Fear the Ginger,” it warned.
As the half closed, the Bruins worked up to a 34-32 lead, a lead that brought the fans to their feet after witnessing the first-half turnaround. “We were a little bit jittery at the beginning,” senior guard Brondyke said. “But once we settled in and started playing the game we knew we could play, we really capitalized. Our defense and communication stepped up and that’s when we do well.”
Brondyke had a work ethic that was evident right from the beginning of his career as a Bruin. He would often challenge players to step up their level of play by displaying a high intensity. After the game, Coach Ring reminisced on how he knew Brondyke back when the senior was only in sixth grade. His intensity and willingness to push past his comfort level is something the Bruins will look for in a leader in seasons to come.
Not only was Tuesday’s game against Hiwassee the last game of the regular season, but it was an opportunity for the Bruins to gain one more win and finish with a 16-14 record, a dramatic contrast to last season.
“I went out there and tried to treat it like every other game,” Mercado said. Mercado, a team captain, provided great leadership on and off the court. His consistent 3-point shooting was at times the difference-maker in games this season. But he was not a one-dimensional player. “[The Tigers] started to rush out to me and guard the three line,” Mercado said. “This opened up the opportunity for me to drive into the lane.” He led the Bruins this season in 3-point shots.
His strong effort and determination to compete stood out as a characteristic of a natural leader. The captain will be missed, and his role on the team will be a tough act to follow.
The Bruins drained the Tigers of confidence with their determination. The frustration was evident on the opposing team’s faces late in the game, and the satisfaction of finishing strong was evident on the Bruins’. The game and regular season ended with a 69-57 win for the Bruins. Next, BJU will play in the NCCAA Division 1 South Regional Tournament at Southern Wesleyan.