Few would have blamed Hayfield if it entered this season with tempered expectations. In his first season at the helm, former assistant Carlos Poindexter was inheriting a program that went a combined 14-31 over the last two seasons and did not feature a player taller than 6 feet 3 inches. And when the team began this campaign with three straight losses, it appeared more of the same futility was on the Hawks’ horizon.
Eleven straight victories later, Hayfield now has its eyes on a Virginia AAA National District title. Turns out that 0-3 start, which included a competitive loss to No. 19 National Christian, wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Those first few losses really motivated us to up our game to the next level,” said junior Amir Atkins. “We saw that we could compete and as our chemistry got better with one another, we’re now playing like we know we’re capable of.”
Atkins is a big reason for Hayfield’s turnaround. Averaging a team-high 17.6 points, the forward came up big with 19 points in a 50-49 win against Wakefield, which had been the only other undefeated team in the district.
“Amir put in tremendous work in the offseason and he’s continued to develop his game to where he can do whatever he wants out there,” Poindexter said. “He goes in every morning to shoot and then after practice, he puts in another hour of shooting. It’s great to see because few people knew how talented he was.”
Poindexter, who coached most of his players on the junior varsity squad, encourages the Hawks (11-3, 6-0 in National District) to play at an up-tempo pace with hopes of scoring in the 70s each game and pressuring the opponent with consistent full-court defense.
“The system Coach implemented has helped us all out and that’s allowed me to score and other guys to get going, too,” Atkins said. “The Wakefield game was big because it showed we can grind out a win, and we’re going to need that as we get deeper into the season.”
When Zack Burnett took the floor for Friday’s eventual home win against McLean, the Fairfax senior knew what was at stake. Just 13 points separated Burnett from the 1,000-point mark for his career, but he was in no particular hurry to get there.
Instead, he took on his normal role as the Rebels’ senior leader and playmaker until the second half, when he stepped to the foul line with 12 points. It appeared his first free throw would do the trick, but the ball rimmed out.
“I had to laugh a little bit at that,” said Burnett, who is averaging a team-high 15.3 points. “I thought God was messing with me on that shot.”
There would be no such divine humor on the second free throw, as Burnett nailed it and entered Rebels’ lore. The senior is just the third player in the school’s 77-year history to reach the 1,000-point mark.
“It means a lot to achieve something like this and is truly gratifying,” said Burnett, a three-year varsity player. “Coach (Mike) Barbee’s system and my teammates are a big reason why I was able to reach this point because of how they set me up in positions to shoot off screens and score.”