In June, Al Ford saw two important qualities in Wakefield’s players during his first few weeks as the Owls’ new head coach.
That gave him hope that they can contend for a VISAA Division III state championship this boys basketball season.
“I noticed that these are focused young men who want to learn and grow in the game of basketball,” said Ford, who left Brentsville to take over at Wakefield, which also made a midseason coaching change last winter. “There is a culture that has already been established.
“Even though they have never won a state championship they definitely have that on their minds,” he said. “We are starting that step by step to make it a realistic goal.”
If the Owls make a run to the state finals for the first time in program history, the play of their versatile guards will likely lead the way.
During practices, Ford often asks every player who identifies as a guard to lineup for “suicides.” Nearly the entire team steps up to the line to participate in that endurance drill.
“We are a team that can have five guards on the floor at any given time,” Ford said. “We are perimeter oriented. We don’t really have a dedicated post player.”
The Owls’ most flexible player in the lineup is senior returning starter Marcel White, their tallest player at 6-foot-4.
“He plays every position for us,” Ford said. “He’s not an established post player, but he will do that for us.”
White recorded a double-double during each of the Wakefield’s six games this season en route to a 5-1 record.
“Marcel is not having [college] recruiters contact me but I know that he is very capable because of his versatility,” Ford said. He will “be able to play at the next level.”
Kaleb Torrence, a junior returning starter, gives the Owls a small but deadly lineup, one capable of scoring quickly and efficiently.
“He is the main person I look to as a veteran,” Ford said. “He has spoken up as a leader on this team.”
The Owls lost three players from their 2017-18 team, each of whom now play at the college level. So their lineup has a new look and style.
“Losing three college players is quite a hole to fill but Kaleb Torrence was more than willing to step into that gap,” Ford said. “I think he was looking forward to stepping into that role.”
Mark Siegel is among the Wakefield players who joined the starting lineup for the first time this season. The junior forward did not play much last winter, but he now helps in the post and on the wings.
“He is a shooter and a scorer,” Ford said. “He is somebody that can get really hot.”
But senior Luke Finkbeiner gives Wakefield its most consistent perimeter shooter. He made 14 of 21 3-pointers over the Owls’ first five games.
“He was even disappointed when he missed three shots in a row,” Ford said. “I told him to go out there and keep shooting.
“If he keeps playing the way I expect … he will have a chance to find himself as a shooting guard playing Division III basketball next year. I have no doubt about that.”
As a team, Wakefield averages more than 10 3-pointers per game.
“That is exceptional,” Ford said.
The Owls entered this week with three consecutive victories despite playing what Ford considers a challenging schedule.
“We have had some early tests,” he said. “That is the type of early competition we are looking for because we want to be ready to play Christ Chapel (Woodbridge) in January.”
Christ Chapel won the D-III state title last season.
And “we want to prepare to play against our rival Highland, who comes loaded this year,” Ford said. “Everything that we do is pointed towards playing our best basketball in January. Then hopefully some magic can happen and we can be ready in February for the state playoffs.”
Despite being new to Wakefield, Ford has plenty of experience in the area with Brentsville and Battlefield.
"Coach Ford is a guy I've known personally and I have a lot of respect for,” Highland coach Brian Hooker said. “Al is a grinder and he loves high school basketball. … He is in it for the kids."
The Hawks and Owls met in the Delaney Athletic Conference tournament final last season with Highland winning the title. They again appear on a collision course at the top of the DAC standings.