There could be a new era of boys basketball starting in Belleville, and it all began this winter where the boys put up a 16-8 record, setting a new program record for the most wins in a single season, while placing second in the Super Essex Conference Independence Division.
The last time Belleville had a winter this good was during the '87-'88 season, where the Bucs put up a 15-9 mark. Head coach, Ted Sochaski, was a senior on that Belleville team and it looks as though he has the Bucs pointed in the right direction once more, after his fourth year at the helm.
"To look back four years ago, where we were and where the program was and to see what we did this year, for me as a coach to show kids that if you work hard and keep working hard and building, that good things can happen," Sochaski said. "I just think that's what the kids saw and they really earned it this year."
This year's run ended a bit prematurely, with an opening round home loss to Scotch Plains in the North II Group 3 section. It was the first home playoff game in the program's history and a giant step forward for boys basketball in Belleville.
A year ago, Belleville showed hints of potential during a 6-18 campaign, where they went 4-6 in games decided by seven points or less. This season, with a more experienced squad, the boys finished 9-3 in those types of close games, which obviously made all of the difference in their record this winter.
"We knew if we could just turn that page and maybe make another layup a couple of free throws, that it could've went the other way last year, whereas this year, that's what happened," Sochaski said.
The strength of this year's basketball team was in the paint with Tommy Rosario and Julian Rodriguez, who led the team in points and rebounds (both over 13 points and 10 boards per game). Rodriguez was also a blocked shots machine this winter and averaged nearly four blocks per game.
In the backcourt, Keith Everett and Dominique Issac combined for more than 60 three-pointers to help spread out the defense, while Kevin Cabello led the team in steals (24) and assists (71). The bad news for the Bucs is that Rosario, Rodriguez, Everett and Cabello are all seniors and won't be back next winter. This means that players like Shaq Richards, Issac will take the torch and the lead of the team. Expect a much faster pace next season for the Bucs.
"Next year I think we have a good solid group coming back," Sochaski said. "We have quite a few guards and I think we're going to play an up tempo game next year."
After two consecutive winters in the post season, perhaps a new trend is starting in Belleville. As a large Group 3 school, the Bucs shouldn't have too much trouble enticing new talent to join the team, because as they say, winning breeds winning and the Bucs were certainly winners this winter.
"I think we've opened up a lot of eyes in the town, showing younger kids that if they work hard, they stay together and they keep practicing, that good things can happen," Sochaski said.