Cilk McSweeney’s long list of ambitions for Calvary Christian Academy stretched beyond just winning a boys’ basketball state championship.
The coach wanted Calvary Christian to test itself against national powerhouses, so he put together one of the toughest schedules in the country.
He wanted his Eagles to feel some of the national spotlight, so he set off for a late-season tournament in Montverde with ESPN’s cameras watching.
Along the way, he wanted to win Calvary Christian’s second state title, too. After a 69-51 win against Miami Country Day in the Class 3A semifinals Wednesday, the Eagles are one win away.
“Our team is hard to beat within a 32-minute game,” McSweeney said.
Calvary Christian (16-9) only trailed at 2-0, built a 34-21 lead by halftime and led by double digits for the final 21:07 to roll past the Spartans (12-10) in the 3A semifinals.
The Eagles will return to the RP Funding Center on Friday to face Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin the 3A championship.
Even for a program with national ambitions, another win this weekend would be monumental for Calvary Christian. The Eagles won their first state title in 2017, then fell short of the final four in each of the next three seasons before finally returning.
Miami Country Day’s run was historic, too. The Spartans lost 9 of 11 early in the season — playing against a stiff schedule of their own, including games against No. 11 Pine Crest and No. 33 Pembroke Pines Charter — before rattling off seven straight wins to reach the final four for the first time in program history.
In Lakeland, they met a buzzsaw.
“On film, I guess you don’t see the length,” Miami Country Day coach Ralph Mata said. “They’re really long, big, athletic, so those gaps that we normally have, they kind of shrink when you’re playing a team of that caliber athletically.”
The lofty expectations McSweeney placed on his team in the preseason proved to be worthy. Calvary Christian boasts five players with Division I scholarship offers, beat four top-100 teams — including No. 4 Orlando Oak Ridge — and now sits at No. 29, according to MaxPreps’ national rankings.
In the semifinals, the Eagles overwhelmed the Spartans to win in another high-profile setting.
Sophomore guard Carl Cherenfant, who has an early offer from the LSU Tigers, paced the Eagles with 15 points. Junior forward Taylor Hendricks, who claims more than a dozen offers, added 12 and twin brother Tyler Hendricks, a guard with an offer from the UCF Knights, added nine. Junior Gregg Glenn, a major target for the Michigan Wolverines, chipped in 12, as did fellow guard Dylan Canoville.
Sophomore guard Marvel Allen, who already has offers from LSU and the Virginia Tech Hokies, led Calvary Christian with five assists.
Jordan Cooke led the Spartans with 16 points and fellow guard Jasai Miles added 13.
“We won, but I think we could’ve played a lot better,” Cherenfant said, “missed assignments and different things like that.”
By most measures, this has already been a breakthrough season for Calvary Christian. There were close losses to top-25 teams to prove the Eagles could hang with anyone and wins against top-100 teams to prove they belonged, even without a stuffed trophy case.
A rise to national prominence, McSweeney said, was a two year mission. All five of Calvary Christian’s players with D-I offers are sophomores and juniors, and only one senior starts.
This weekend will be a chance to add another trophy, but the vision stretches further than just a state championship. Another title can be a springboard to even larger goals.
“We’ll adjust and keep getting better, and that’s how we’re looking at it,” McSweeney said. “We’re going to miss probably one senior that’s actually helping us and playing minutes. We’ve got everybody coming back, so this is another game for us to get better in and build confidence into.”