We’re a family.
That’s a common metaphorical refrain among athletes who find success together as a team. Highland’s players evoked it Thursday after they beat the Seton Conquistadors 64-54 in Manassas to take sole possession of first place in the Delaney Athletic Conference boys basketball standings.
Yet Seton has a truer familial foundation, and that seems to have helped the Conquistadors compose one of their best seasons in recent history. They have a 12-6 record with a 6-1 mark in the DAC after beating Wakefield 75-58 Monday following their loss Thursday to Highland (16-2, 6-0), which was ranked No. 3 in the VISAA Division II poll entering this week.
Seton entered this week ranked No. 12 under the guidance of head coach Dan Vander Woude. His 11-player roster includes his sons John Paul and Bobby Vander Woude, his nephew Jack Vander Woude and a different pair of brothers in Andrew and Patrick Nguyen.
“This team is special in several areas,” their coach said. “Our chemistry is one of those things. … They anticipate each other very well.
“These guys have played so long together, and they really do bring out the best in each other,” he said. “And I think that’s just a rare quality.”
So the Conquistardors hope to earn their first state berth since 2010. They narrowly missed a bid last season after finishing with a 20-9 record, 8-4 in the DAC.
John Paul Vander Woude is now a senior while Andrew Nguyen and Jack and Bobby Vander Woude are sophomores with Patrick Nguyen in eighth grade and coming off the bench. The other four guys compose Seton’s staring lineup along with senior Dominic Olszewski.
“Every now and then because we know each other so well there’s going to be some” problems, Dan Vander Woude said. “But it’s some brothers getting on each other because they’re not playing up to the ability that they want each other to play up to. They hold each other to a high standard, as brothers do, and family does.”
The Nguyen and Vander Woude relatives also have a lot of crossover experience playing travel basketball with each other, often with the Nguyens’ father as their coach. So together as guards at Seton they’ve given the Conquistadors as strong perimeter presence with John Paul Vander Woude and Andrew Nguyen leading the team in scoring this season.
Vander Woude led them with 29 points Monday against Wakefield while Nguyen had 19, Bobby Vander Woude had 10 and Olszewski had eight. On Thursday against Highland, John Paul Vander Woude had a game-high 23 points on 8-for-16 field-goal shooting while Jack Vander Woude and Nguyen had 11 points each.
John Paul Vander Woude made 6 of 11 3-pointers Thursday after recently going 7-for-9 during an 85-68 win over Tandem Friends.
“This is one of the best perimeter shooting teams we’ve had at Seton,” Dan Vander Woude said. “We multiply our talents because … our ability to move the ball allows us to get the most out of our ability to shoot.”
Highland’s exceptional perimeter defense, however, gave Seton some unusual problems. So the Conquistadors scored only 54 points after averaging 80.4 per game during the five-game winning streak they built prior to Thursday.
Bobby Vander Woude led Seton with four assists against Highland while John Paul Vander Woude had four steals. Olszewski added nine rebounds while Jack Vander Woude had six.
Seton also played solid defense to keep Highland under 65 points in a game for only the third time this season, proving the Conquistadors have enough talent to compete on the state level. The Hawks ended with 17 turnovers and gave Seton fans reason to stick around by finishing the third quarter on a 10-0 run before cutting the Hawks’ lead to 44-35 early in the fourth quarter.
More than 200 people crammed into Seton’s tiny gym with fans filling the gym’s bleachers, entrance-ways and various overlooks, such as a theater stage and staircase platform.
“It’s fun because they always bring out the crowd,” Hawks coach Brian Hooker said.
Highland point guard Angelo Brizzi agreed.
“This gym’s tough to play in,” the junior said. “The hoops are different. Kind of a small gym. A lot of fans; a lot of screeching little kids. Not in a bad way, there’s just a lot of energy in here.”