After a year’s worth of hard work, dating to around this time back in 2018, many can officially say the Blue Ridge Barons (St. George, VA) once again rests at the top of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division II classification. Last March, the program fell to the Miller School (Charlottesville, VA) in the state title game, 82-64. This past Saturday (3/2), that story switched roles, as Blue Ridge maintained their focus during a complete dogfight to defeat Miller in overtime, 61-53. It was the Barons’ third VISAA Division II championship win in the last five seasons, as they hung banners in 2015 and 2017 also. I’ve been keeping an eye on the team throughout this season, dating back to October, and honestly had the group projected to win it all since day one after recognizing how well their roster depth and inevitable talent fused together. After accomplishing the deed on Saturday, one could note the team’s passion and how happy they truly were for each other, while celebrating at the center of the court; it’s been quite the ‘bounce-back year.’ One of the biggest standouts for the Barons arrived in the form of senior wing Savion Helm ’19. A guy who I’ve considered as one of the most underrated players in the state this season.
During the Barons’ championship run, Helm, a 6’5” prospect, checked into games and ended up playing one of the major roles in the state tournament’s Final Four. Fans and other spectators have identified the versatility he brings onto the floor with skill, athleticism, and a great feel for the game. His ability to draw fouls looked best on Blue Ridge’s roster and perhaps better than anyone else in the VISAA Division II bracket; he went 13-14 from the charity stripe in Saturday’s contest. Helm finished with a team-high 18 points and six rebounds in the championship win, while also putting up a stat line of 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists in Friday’s semifinals against Middleburg. Along with his effortless way of getting to the free-throw line, the senior also impressed throughout his teams’ final two games with consistently crashing the offensive glass, finishing in transition, and cutting off opponents’ penetration on the perimeter. He can do a little bit of everything as Blue Ridge’s ultimate spark plug.
After the celebration wrapped up in Chesterfield, VA (Virginia State University hosted the state tournament’s final two rounds), the Blue Ridge group returned back to campus only to be greeted by extra excitement from students and faculty. Helm and his teammates will acknowledge that the team receives a lot of love from their fan base in the St. George community.
“Oh yes, everybody was really happy for us as soon as we returned to campus after that big win,” Helm stated. “The team has always received strong support from the school; they want us to win it all every possible time that we go to the tournament, so this year was no different.”
As far as the feeling of being a state champ, it still hasn’t all quite sunk in yet for the enthusiastic senior. I can view that as relatable, in a sense. Of course, I never won a state championship during my high school years, but I recognize how lengthy the season ends up becoming and how it must take some time before one fully realizes how all those months of hard work paid off to reach a certain goal. For some, that realization can happen in a matter of seconds. For others, it may take a couple of days or even weeks. Regardless, that honor of being victorious as a champion doesn’t go anywhere. No one can take that away from the Barons, especially the six seniors, who finished their careers in the best imaginable way.
“It definitely hasn’t quite hit me yet. I’m sure it will at some point, but right now I’m just enjoying the moment, honestly. Couldn’t ask for a better way to go out. I remember the coaches telling us before we ran out onto the floor (before the championship tip-off) that we had worked our way up to deserve a spot in that position. When we went back into the locker room after the game, they just said how proud they were of all of us. It seemed like they were most happy for the seniors.”
Sounds about just what I would expect from the Blue Ridge coaching staff, led by head coach Cade Lemcke. I have a lot of respect for how the coaches handle the program and establish a family-type atmosphere for the team. Their camaraderie proved as equal importance to their talent and depth. Still, even when taking note of their stellar 28-6 overall record, the team still had their struggles with some minor handlings throughout the year; the case with any team, regardless of level.
“I think one of the biggest things we had to fight through was learning how to not become complacent. We’d go through that at times but had to learn how to bounce back after not playing our best. I feel we got better at that as the season went on.”
One of the Barons’ moments of dealing with complacency and consistency emerged during a notable trip out of the country to Manchester, UK for participation in the 13th annual ‘Haris Charalambous Memorial Basketball Tournament.’ Occurring back in late-December, it resulted as a big test for the team, as they faced up against successful international club teams from around the world.
“That trip was a good one. We started off the tournament strong but declined a bit at the very end and finished around third-place or so. It was around that time when we realized we couldn’t afford to become complacent at all. But, overall it was a great experience being out there. Playing against those teams, which had a few professionals on some rosters, gave us a good challenge. When we weren’t playing, we also had the chance to do some touring.”
After returning from the UK and starting off the New Year with two losses, Blue Ridge went on a tear to win 12 out of their last 14 regular-season games. Before reaching states, they also took care of business in the Virginia Independent Conference (VIC) Division I tournament, easily taking out Virginia Episcopal School for the conference tournament title. Helm acknowledged that moment as another one of his favorites of the winter, other than this past weekend at Virginia State.
Now, with high school basketball officially behind him, Helm can turn a full focus to making a decision for the next step in college. Personally, I still feel that more next-level programs should be seeking after him. He brings a lot of promise with his intangibles, positive attitude, and approach to the game. I know I use this term often, but he’s definitely the epitome of a STEAL for whoever lands him. At the moment, Helm has been in frequent contact with a few particular schools.
“Right now, I’ve been mostly hearing from Eastern Mennonite University, Catholic University, and the University of Mary Washington. I plan to most likely visit Eastern Mennonite and Catholic soon. Still not too sure of when I’ll make a decision, but I’ll just be looking for a situation in which I feel myself having the best four-year career.”
Other than college choices, Helm also has another sport to transition into, now with hoops out of the way. It turns out he doesn’t just solely stand out on the hardwood.
“Oh yeah, I run track here at Blue Ridge also. I compete in the high jump, long jump, and triple jump events. Going to try my best and win a state title for the spring too!”
Well, Helm undoubtedly has some hops; evident by how he gets up over the rim on the court. I might have to check out a Blue Ridge track and field event if I’m ever nearby a meet.
With a successful senior year wrapping up, I’m sure the majority of Blue Ridge’s 2019 class is trying their best to make the most of their last days on campus before graduation. March has already arrived (fairly quickly, if you ask me) and the days will only continue to count down before late spring/summer arrives. When asked about what he’ll miss the most about the school, outside of the basketball program, Helm has one particular aspect in mind.
“The family feel, really, above all else. Everyone knows each other around here and gets along, so there’s always good, positive vibes. I’ll definitely miss those who I’ve became close with.”
Again, something that’s relatable. I’m sure the Barons will miss Helm’s optimistic personality, as well as his apparent court skills, just as much as any program would. He’s done a lot in his two years on campus and looks more than ready, mentally, to take on the next stage in life.
But wait, where does Savion Helm see himself in ten years?
“Hmm…probably on the verge of fatherhood, honestly; starting a family. You know, what’s good about this program is how it builds you into a man. But I feel like I’ll be good, should have a degree, maybe even finding an opportunity to play overseas somewhere.”
Again, a major congratulations to the Blue Ridge Barons for once again taking home the state title. Best of luck to Savion and the other five 2019 players as they fight through that senioritis!