Atholton did its part when it beat Mount Hebron last week to finish the regular season with a 17-2 mark in Howard County. All the No. 10 Raiders (18-3) needed was for Centennial to upset frontrunner Oakland Mills to be declared county champions.
"I remember walking to the locker room after we won and asking coach [Jared Albert] what happened in that game," senior forward and captain Michael Bernetti said.
At the time, that game was only in the third quarter, so the waiting game was on. Text messages provided updates and teammates were sharing what they could find out.
Finally, the news arrived: Centennial upset Oakland Mills in overtime. The Raiders were the champs.
Bernetti has been in the middle of all the success, as the Raiders now prepare for the upcoming region playoffs. In his second full season on varsity, Bernetti is averaging 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while bringing leadership and savvy to the Raiders' frontcourt.
Bernetti, who has a 4.2 weighted GPA, is still looking at a number of colleges, with an eye on becoming an actuary. He's a member of the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America and ran cross country for four years.
He doesn't plan to play varsity basketball in college, but will no doubt look for an intramural team or pickup game. Basketball has long been his passion, and he found another way to enjoy the game when he began coaching his younger sister's third-grade recreation team.
What does basketball mean to you?
I've been playing basketball for as long as I can remember. My parents tell me stories about how I was 2 years old outside on the little hoop just shooting around. I basically live and breathe basketball. Even when it comes to school, we may have assignments where a teacher says we can pick whatever topic we want and my mind immediately shifts to basketball.
How rewarding was it winning the Howard County championship this year?
It really means a lot, especially this being my senior year. It's just a great accomplishment for our team to come together. At the beginning of the season, people saw us as a good team, but I don't think too many had us at the top of the county.
How are you feeling going into the playoffs for the last time?
I really just want to see if we can go on a run, especially after the feeling I had after last year's playoffs. Losing to Reservoir, I just remember it was such a tough pill to swallow. It's my last playoffs here, so I'm hoping we can get far in this tournament. Another one of our goals going into the season was winning the region. I think that's an attainable goal for us, and it will be exciting to see if we can do it.
What will it take?
It's going to take what we've been doing all season. We've got to play very good defense — that's been one of our focuses all year. And we just need to keep up with the chemistry on the team and keep our balanced scoring. Even if we have a night where one of our players had an off game, we've had others who stepped up with huge games, and that's helped us tremendously. So, we just need to keep on doing what we're doing.
How much fun and satisfaction do you get from coaching the third grade girls basketball team your sister plays on?
It's been exciting, because I've been seeing the girls really improve over the past year and a half. Some of them, when they first came in, didn't even know how to dribble the ball, and now some of the girls can go around their back. It's really rewarding, especially when you see a girl make her first basket or something like that, and see how excited they get when it happens. One of the girls who last year couldn't get the ball up to the basket made a shot against a really good team this year, and you could just see the excitement on her face. And then we had another girl on our team run up to her and give her a hug right in the middle of the game! Just that feeling when you see that is great.
Outside of basketball, how has your senior year been?
Senior year is flying by. I'm excited to be graduating soon and moving on to the next part of my life. But also knowing a lot of these kids here I may never see again — it's a bittersweet feeling.
How have you managed to balance your time to excel in the classroom as well as in basketball?
I think the key is to work hard and use your time efficiently. So, I've been trying to keep like a steady balance, I can't be spending all my time on one thing, so just trying to balance how much time I'm spending on basketball and how much time I'm staying on academics to stay on top of them both.
How has the FBLA Program helped you?
It's helped me a lot. I'm looking to be in business, as well as possibly statistics. Last year, we had a field trip to New York and we visited the NASDAQ Stock Market and everything over there, so that really helped me as far as learning how all the stocks are traded and everything like that. It helped me learn a little more about the business end.