By Lily Belcher
Last month, the Burns Middle School girls basketball team claimed their second consecutive county championship title during the Hillsborough County Finals. The Lady Bruins were undefeated, winning all six of their regular season games and the three playoff games.
“We were way more cohesive offensively. We were unselfish. Everybody shared the ball well,” said Coach Wes Knauer. “We probably on average scored more points total just because of the way everyone was willing to pass [the ball] and give it up to the next person. That’s what a good, unselfish offense looks like, and it paid off.”
The team of 14 sixth through eighth-graders is led by Knauer, who joined as the Burns Middle School’s basketball coach last year, leading the team to their first, and now second, championship. Knauer has coached basketball for 15 years, for his own kids and at Bloomingdale High School, in addition to coaching the Lady Bruins.
“I’ve coached at every level,” said Knauer. “So, I’m used to the developmental part of it. I think that the most important thing is fundamentals. And at [the middle school level], you have to teach fundamentals.”
Knauer said he has enjoyed coaching middle school and navigating the unique challenges that come with a middle school team, such as coaching young sixth-graders and older, more mature eighth-graders on the same team.
“I enjoy that lower level because that’s how they grow. They’re still very raw,” he explained.
Knauer said his team’s biggest strength was their endurance and resilience that got them through the close playoff games.
After this season, five of his team will advance to high school and Knauer will be faced with training the upcoming middle school athletes, a challenge he faces at the beginning of each school year. This year, however, the transition was slightly easier. Due to COVID-19, last year’s season was in the spring rather than fall, meaning the team’s seasons were only separated by the summer. The proximity of the seasons kept the 2020 championship fresh in the minds of the athletes and gave them a goal going into the regularly scheduled 2021 season.