Last week, Pace Academy’s JV boys basketball players were named world champions at the triennial Boys Junior Varsity World Championship Tournament. This year was the first triennial world tournament for JV boys basketball squads. “It was pretty cool,” said sophomore Elijah Sheft, “We definitely deserved it, though. We’ve been talking as a team the whole season about how we knew we could win the world championships.” The Pace boys were given the honor to play in this world tournament because of their “outstanding record and stellar regular season,” according to the tournament committee. Pace was one of four teams from the U.S. chosen to compete in the tournament. By pure coincidence, the other three participating teams from the U.S. were also from Atlanta: Lovett, Westminster, and Holy Innocents’.
The tournament took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the future sight of the 2016 Summer Olympics on the newly built Olympic basketball courts. At the outset, there was a field of 63 teams for Pace to overcome and six games to win. “It didn’t seem possible, especially after their first round against Germany,” said Athletic Director Kris Palmerton, who was at every tournament game. “It was a close game, but sophomore Zachary Kerker’s three-point shooting finally won the game for our Knights.”
After their first game, it was smooth sailing for the Knights. The JV boys got through the second and third rounds with ease, crushing the Russian and Venezuelan teams, both by more than 30 points. Westminster and Holy Innocents’ both lost their games in the second round, but Lovett made it to the elite eight game against Pace. It was a tight game in the first half, but in the third quarter junior Will Rucker carried the team with a total of 17 rebounds, nine steals, and 27 points, and was instrumental in the win. “It was very impressive,” said Coach Fortier, “I’d never seen him play like that before. I think he was channeling the spirit of Mr. Ballard when he plays PAPUBA. Either way, I knew from the beginning that we had come prepared to slaughter Lovett. It was only a matter of time.”
The Knights simply flew through the final four. Led by Elijah and junior Tripp Conrad, the Pace team beat Egypt’s representative team. Elijah started off the game with three dunks, setting the standard for the team and the stage for Tripp to finish off the game with a total of 14 steals and 34 points. The final score against the Egyptians was 93-52
In the final, championship game, Pace was up against a strong Japanese team. Coach Johnson said, “I went and talked to the Japanese coach and team before the game. I won’t disclose exactly what was said, but let’s just say I gave our boys a definite psychological advantage for the game.” With Coach Johnson’s intimidation factor, the Knights were able to pull out their final win. The entire team played well, but sophomore Waide Swain was leading scorer with a total of 71 points. The game was won by a last second buzzer beater by sophomore Drew Beck, ending the game with a score of 84-83. Drew said, “It was a great experience, but I couldn’t have done it without all the support I get from my team, my friends, my coaches, and my family. Most important was all the encouragement I got from my sister Julia. I couldn’t have done it without her cheering me on through the whole season.”
By Julia Beck, Staff Writer ’15
Photo: Aaron Wasserman