SCHERTZ — The Guardians ventured where no other team in program history had gone before during the 2018-19 season.
John Paul II’s boys basketball team picked up its first-ever playoff victory last year by way of a 50-29 rout of Texas School for the Deaf in the opening round.
Head coach Forrest Blackwell said that taste of success has only made his returning players more motivated to make an even bigger splash during the 2019-20 campaign.
“They truly feel they can make it to state in Waco,” Blackwell said. “That’s just the energy they have and our job as coaches is to stay hungry and stay humble at the same time and make sure we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do between the lines to get it done. The confidence and energy are where they need to be.”
The Guardians lost five seniors to graduation and also saw a junior transfer to Veterans Memorial. However, John Paul II still has a very strong nucleus that is surrounded by a bevy of youthful talent.
Seniors C.J. Kowalik and Joseph Kapavik both return after earning all-district honors last year. Kowalik, a center, was a second team selection, while Kapavik, a forward, landed on the first team.
Blackwell said both will be relied upon to provide leadership — and juniors Connor Asadourian and Mikey Rhoder will be expected to do the same.
“[Kowalik and Kapavik] will get heavy minutes,” Blackwell said. “We have three other seniors who played the majority with JV last year as juniors. We’ll be leaning on C.J. Kowalik and Joseph Kapavik.
“We’re very deep as far as our sophomore and freshman classes go. Our junior class, we’re bringing back Mikey Rhoder and Connor Asadourian. They’ll also be looked at to provide leadership. They’ve been on varsity since they were freshmen. They should be able to help in that department.”
Blackwell’s squad is also boosted by what the coach called “probably the deepest” group of sophomores he’s seen during his tenure at JPII. The committee is led by starting point guard Dezmon Dudley, who led the team in both points and assists as a freshman while earning a place on the all-district first team.
Fellow sophomore Payton Riemers is a transfer from Clemens, and freshman Josh McGuire has also shown the ability to make an impact from day one.
“[Dudley] averaged 10 points and four assists for me last year,” Blackwell said. “Payton Riemer is going to be a sophomore and will crack the starting lineup. We’ll be looking for him to prove himself and help us out a lot and I think he will. Freshman Josh McGuire has had a great summer as far as the AAU circuit goes, and we’ll probably be getting a lot of contributions from him.”
The roster also includes seniors Trevor Beckwith, Shane Scott, Brady Sullivan and Adam Zorowski in addition to sophomore Matt Cuellar.
The Guardians have already begun to put the puzzle pieces together as far as their lineup goes, as JPII opened the season with a 63-50 comeback win over Knippa on Friday night.
In that contest, John Paul II erased an 18-9 deficit in the second quarter behind an overwhelming 21-0 run. Kowalik finished with a game-high 21 points, while Dudley chipped in 17. Rhoder helped spark the big surge by connecting on a few shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Blackwell said his team will continue to work on gelling until district play arrives. The coach also mentioned a crucial stretch of games in January that will help prepare the Guardians for the stretch run.
“We’ve got a couple big games in January that are going to propel us into district, but that can also do some things reputation-wise for the program going forward,” Blackwell said. “San Antonio Christian, Holy Cross, Canyon Lake —January is a heavy part of our schedule and I hope that gears us up and gets us ready for that Houston district if we’re blessed enough to win district and get a No. 1 spot and make it that far again.”
John Paul II is determined to climb to the top of the league standings this year after seeing San Antonio Lutheran sweep the season series in 2018-19. Blackwell said Lutheran will once again be a tough challenge, but he knows his players will be up for it.
The coach also sees Boerne Geneva as tough competitor.
“[Our guys] feel they should have done it last year and they’re ready to take care of business,” Blackwell said. “In the game that could’ve given us first place, we blew a 16-point lead in the first half at home. That still sits with us and I spend a lot of nights thinking about that game.
“Geneva is always a tough game. They’re the unspoken rival we have. Kids at both schools get up for that game. We haven’t lost to them in two years, but it’s always a game you’ve got to be ready for.”
JPII is set to travel to Boerne to face Geneva on Jan. 21, 2020 for its district opener. The Guardians’ league schedule also includes a pair of contests against San Marcos Academy.
For now, John Paul II is feeding off the energy provided by last season’s historic moment as it builds camaraderie every day in practice.
“Although our chemistry and cohesiveness is going to be a factor early on, as well as our discipline, we have a lot of young talent on the team this year,” Blackwell said. “It’s a good energy around the school, even with the young guys.”