The Bulls won their first district championship under Head Coach Shawn Vanzant. (Photo credit: Jaime Miller.)

The Bloomingdale Bulls basketball program has made huge strides since they hired Head Coach Shawn Vanzant in 2018. After winning only three games in his first year, the Bulls have flipped the script this season, winning their first district championship since 2016.

For seniors Rudy Hayes and Mason Crotwell, who have seen it all in their four seasons at Bloomingdale, the victory was well worth the wait. The two were not only invaluable in the run to the district championship, but they also were instrumental in the program’s quick turnaround. Captain Rudy Hayes was a four-year starter at point guard and averaged a team-high 15.3 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game this season. Crotwell was the team’s second-leading scorer with 9.1 points per game.

“It was great. It was my first time having four-year kids and they deserved it,” said Vanzant. “They stuck with me for four years and they never complained, never wavered at all with all that fell on them. For the guys to win on our home floor, their senior year was so special.”

The Bulls defeated Manatee 64-52 in mid-February to claim the district crown. Hayes had key buckets down the stretch and led the team with 21 points. The team faced a lot of adversity during the season after a quick 14-5 start. During the season, the Bulls lost one of their best players, Ruben Lopez, for six games due to injury. At the end of the season, the Bulls lost six in a row before reeling off three consecutive wins during the district tournament.

“It felt very gratifying,” said Crotwell. “Rudy and I worked our butts off to help turn the program around with Coach Vanzant. The four years of hard work paid off. Going out on top definitely was satisfying, and having our team on that banner forever will definitely be something I tell my kids about.”

Vanzant said that winning the district championship was one of his goals when he took the job, but it wasn’t his main goal. His main goal is to take it one game at a time and put his players in the best situation to be successful, and his long-term goal is to make it to Lakeland for a final four.

“I think it definitely impacts the program,” said Vanzant. “Kids today like to see results. I think that winning the district championship shows that my coaching staff and what I’m talking about is working. The last four years we went from winning three games to what we’ve done this year. I think winning a district championship solidifies that what we are doing is working, and kids are proud to be a part of it.”

Each season under Vanzant, the team has achieved more wins than the season before. Last year, they made it to the district championship but fell a little bit short before going back in 2022 and finishing the job. Vanzant is happy with the progress his program has made, but he isn’t satisfied just yet.

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Nick Nahas
Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.