Kevin Tuck will never forget his final week as basketball coach at William Byrd High School. The Vinton native coached the Terriers in four games over six days, with three of them being elimination games and the other for the Conference 24 championship.
Tuck announced he was stepping down as basketball coach after Monday’s season-ending loss at John Handley High. Kevin coached the Terriers to a 110-71 record over seven years as head coach, earning a berth in the regional six of those years. He won three conference championships and took the team to the state tournament twice.
“This was my 18th year coaching here and I’m only 39 years old,” he said. “I started coaching as a senior in college and it takes up a lot of your time.”
Tuck also stepped down as golf coach after the fall season.
“When the VHSL changed the rules where you could practice year round, that changed a lot,” he said. “I have a family and young children, and you find yourself coaching 10 months or so a year. I can’t ask my players to make that kind of commitment if I don’t make it as well, and I just feel like I need to spend more time at home with the family.”
Tuck didn’t get to spend much time at home in his final week in charge, as Byrd was busy with four games in six days. That made it tough as several players were battling the flu, and the final game was a bus trip to Winchester without a day to practice.
The journey began last Wednesday in the Conference 24 semifinal against Pulaski County. Byrd hosted that game and it was a big one, as the winner continued on and the loser was done for the season. Byrd had lost to Pulaski twice during the year, but the Terriers came out with a purpose and opened a 10 point lead by the half.
“We played well,” said Tuck. “We played great defense.”
Pulaski was able to cut the lead to two in the second half but the Terriers did a great job of managing the clock and were able to hang on for a 53-44 win. Jaylen Wheeler had nine points and seven assists and Devon Kasey had nine points and eight rebounds.
With a regional berth in hand, Byrd played for the Conference 24 championship a night later at William Fleming. This one was for a trophy and seeding in the regional, and for the first five minutes the Terriers were nowhere to be found as Fleming raced to a 15-2 lead.
“We’ve had some of those streaks this year,” noted Tuck.
However, this one was far from over. Byrd cut the lead to 24-21 by the half and took a brief lead in the third quarter. It was tight down the stretch, with Fleming leading most of the way, but the Terriers stayed right on their tail.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Tuck. “We had a few good looks late in the game but we couldn’t get the big one to go down.”
Fleming held on for the 59-54 win. Alex Fitch led Byrd with 19 points, Stephen Olsen had 11 and six rebounds and Wheeler had eight points.
The loss meant Byrd had to turn around and play again Saturday, at home, against John Champe, the team that eliminated them last year. Champe was led by Dom Fragala, who averages 37 points a game. He was “held” to his season average of 37 by the Terriers as Byrd took a 73-67 win.
“If they(Champe) had won there’s a good chane he(Fragala) would have broken Allen Iverson’s state record for points in a season,” said Tuck. “Of course he shot the ball 35 times.”
Byrd got off to a great start and led 23-10 after one quarter. Like most games, it wasn’t over at that point as Champe rallied and led by as many as six in the third period. However, the Terriers finished strong and pulled out the win as Kasey had 21 points and 13 rebounds. Wheeler had 17 points, seven boards and six assists and Olsen had 17 points.
The Terriers had Sunday to rest, but no time to practice as they next played at 25-1 John Handley in Winchester on Monday night. The Terriers gave it all they had, but they ran out of steam and dropped a 53-43 decision.
“That was the best defense we saw all season,” said Tuck. “They just took us out of our offense. We struggled to shoot and we were just 31 percent for the game.”
Fitch had 11 and Olsen had 10 as the Terriers finished 15-10 for the season. They were one win away from a spot in the state tournament.
“I thought we had a good season,” said Tuck. “Before the season I thought we had a good chance to play for a berth in the state tournament, and that’s right where we were on Monday.”
Next year’s Terrier team will look quite different, with a different coach and lots of new players. Byrd has eight seniors and Fitch is moving to northern Virginia. Only Wheeler returns from this year’s starting five.
Kasey leaves as Conference 24 Player of the Year, announced after the tournament. Fitch also made the first team while Olsen and Wheeler made the second team.
“I’m going to miss the kids but I’ll still be at the games,” said Tuck. “Like I said, I’m only 39. Who knows, I might get back in it someday.”