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After leading his scrappy team of underdogs to within sight of a regional berth, Chiefland boys' basketball head coach Mark Lundy was named District 7 Class 3A Coach of the Year by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association.
Last year, in Lundy's first year in command, Chiefland boys went 7-18. This year, they leaped to a vastly better 13-12, a bare factual record that doesn't even begin to tell the story of the season. Blindsided by vandals, the team played the first half of the season in practice jams before, bolstered by donations from the community, they were able to buy new uniforms. On their own merit, Chiefland beat a very tough Dixie County team three times, including in the district quarterfinal. Even better, the Indians played above their heads, frustrating Newberry, putting a bad scare into district runner-up P.K. Yonge and challenging district champion Williston.
It's no wonder that the coaches that nominated Lundy to the prize were his toughest opponents: coaches David Vespignani of Williston, Carlos Villalobos of P.K. Yonge and Lou Clark of Newberry. Chiefland was ambitious this year, using exceptional fitness to attack better shooting teams and keep them off guard.
“I knew we'd need some kind of edge, because we didn't have much for shooters, so we had to rely on our strength and conditioning,” Lundy said.
Between running opponents into fatigue, forcing turnovers and earning second chances, strength and endurance worked for the Indians.
“This year, we're going to be even better.”
Lundy says younger players who filled in behind this year's stars, Cantrell Richardson, Stephen Davis and Tommy Sheffield, will come into their own.
“We're going to be more balanced,” he said.
Jamantye Thompson, Donnell Sanders and Marquis Green saw limited minutes this past year, although their contribution did not go unmarked. In the coming year, they'll be joined by Bo Beauchamp, Trent Perryman and Brent Slaughter. Starting point guard Eugene Carter, the one youngster who was not a role player this past year, will again command the offense for Chiefland.
“I'm very excited,” Lundy said, thinking ahead to team-building in summer camps.
“We're a lock for the St. Leo Classic (held the first week of August), and we hope to have a chance at the Florida camp. We also have 12 summer games scheduled.”
Lundy has also been invited to instruct and speak at Five Star Basketball Camp at University of Central Florida July 6-9.
The incredible support at Chiefland and in the county has made the Indians' and Lundy's success possible, he said.
“The crowds this year were amazing – we had an overwhelming amount of support from the community and business leaders,” he said.
At the school, the story is the same.
“Mrs. Asbell (CHS Principal) and Mr. Wilson (CHS Athletic Director) have provided continuous support, as has our school board member Paige Brookins and Superintendent Bob Hastings. They always ask us how they can help.”
Chiefland's coaching ranks are strong, too, with support from other sport's head coaches, like baseball's Kyle Parnell and football's Ajay Ulmer. Lundy says middle school coach Andy Kidd is also a strong suporter. A strong coaching system means harder working players.
“I think when players see that a coach is willing to work, the kids are going to work even harder,” Lundy said.
“We've got a great group of kids willing to do that. They're all ready to get back to work. They keep asking me, 'When spring is over, can we start basketball practice?'”
They can. They will.
“Basketball starts in the summer,” said Lundy.
It starts early, for sure, when you want to win.