It was all the talk early in the season, how three players were going to indelibly etch their names in Cumberland Valley Christian Blazers basketball history.
Then in January the talk became reality, when senior Kyleigh Teal and juniors Caleb Eckert and Blaine Minnier shattered the 1,000-point barrier just a week apart.
Teal’s milestone came first, when on Jan. 14 in a victory over Grace Academy, she broke free for a layup in the fourth quarter.
“It was very memorable,” Teal said, “especially when my cousin got it later that night.”
Not even an hour after Teal’s 1,000th point, her cousin, Eckert, made a foul shot in the first few minutes against Grace to reach 1,000.
“For me, I knew it was going to happen because I’ve put in the work,” Eckert said. “But it’s not about me; it’s about playing the game.”
A week later in a win over the Frederick Warriors, Minnier sank a shot from inside to climb above 1,000.
“It was really cool to see it happen,” Blazers freshman point guard Nollin Egolf said. “I kind of saw them play over the spring last year (at adjacent AAU team practices), but it’s cool to see how much broader their skill sets are compared to what I saw then.”
It has been a season of accomplishments for the Blazer basketball teams.
The girls are 21-6 and the third seed in the Mason Dixon Christian Conference tournament. They play in the semifinals against second-seeded Calvary Christian Friday at 3:30 at the Berkeley County Recreation Center in Martinsburg, W. Va.
The boys are 21-2 and top-seeded in the MDCC tournament. They play fourth-seeded Calvary in the semifinals Friday at 8 p.m., also in Martinsburg.
But early on, a lot of focus was on the number 1,000.
“I thought it would be cool if Caleb and I could get it on the same night,” Teal said. “I knew we were both close. It was just a matter of who would get it first.”
Teal has been a mainstay for the Blazers since her freshman year. She has been either a first- or second-team MDCC all-star in each of her four years, including a first-team selection this year.
“The last two years she has done a fantastic job,” Blazers coach Dylan Ward said. “She was probably the one who had to give up the most.”
The emergence of point guard Laurel Reitz and the addition of Amber Yanosik last year as freshmen gave the Blazers other scoring options besides Teal. Nevertheless, she will still finish her career likely with more than 1,200 points, leaving her second in school history behind all-time leading scorer Miranda Payne. She is the sixth Blazer girl to reach 1,000 points.
“Kyleigh has always made her teammates better,” Ward said. “She’s been a great teammate as we’ve grown as a basketball program.”
“She’s a very good leader,” Reitz said. “She shares the ball well and she is a very good offensive player. She has a lot of energy on the court, and she’s just an all-around good teammate. She’s also easy to talk to. She’s always there for us.”
This year Teal is averaging 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“She’s left the program better than she found it,” Ward said. “Not many players can say that. It’s the same with Caleb and Blaine. They’re going to leave the program better than they found it.”
Eckert and Minnier have found their names in the same sentences many times over the years. Classmates as well as teammates. National Honor Society members. Dominating presences on the court. Top-notch defensive players on the Blazers’ MDCC champion soccer team last fall. In fact, their mothers were in Chambersburg Hospital at the same time when the boys were born two days apart in February 2003.
Even on their milestone nights, each had a hand in the other’s accomplishment. On Minnier’s landmark basket, Eckert fed him a pass on the low block, and Minnier banked in the shot for points 1,000 and 1,001, the last two points of his 29-point night. Minnier also assisted Eckert on his 1,000th – well, sort of. He sent a pass inside to Eckert, who went up for the shot but was fouled. The 6-foot-6 Eckert then converted the free throw for his 1,000th.
“It’s just chemistry,” Minnier said. “It’s like we know what each other is going to do. We don’t just play together; we work out together, too.”
That harmony between the pair has helped turn the Blazers from also-rans to title contenders in the past two years.
“We share the ball,” Eckert said. “If I don’t have it, I know Blaine is going to get it to me. And if he doesn’t have the ball, I try to get it to him. And a lot of times I know that if I get the ball to him and he doesn’t have the shot, he’s going to get it right back to me.”
“Both are team guys,” Blazers coach Austin Sanders said. “Their focus is on seeing the team succeed, not so much on individual goals. You can’t teach that. It’s a character trait.”
Eckert’s father Mark, whose name is also on the 1,000-point banner hanging in the Blazers’ gym, has coached both boys since elementary school.
“What impresses me most about Blaine and Caleb is their work ethic,” Mark Eckert said. “They put in a lot of time in the gym working on their skills in the off-season every year. They have improved each year and have brought the whole team with them. They’re just really good guys. I know I am biased since Caleb is my son and I have known Blaine his whole life and coached him since fourth grade, but there is nothing I wouldn’t do for either one of them.
“They’re good students and teammates, and they are coachable players. Each has accomplished a lot individually on the basketball court, but in many ways their careers are linked. They have pushed each other to get better every step of the way. They have shared the load and worked together unselfishly to develop the chemistry they have today.”
This week Eckert was named Most Valuable Player in the MDCC. He was a first-team selection last year. He is averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds a game and leads the team in blocked shots, steals and assists.
“Our focus with Caleb has always been for him to become an all-around basketball player and not be cast in the ‘big man’ role,” Mark Eckert said. “While he’s always been above average in height, to me 6-foot-6 is not a ‘big man’ but rather a big guard.”
Eckert can fill multiple roles on the court, handling the ball outside as well as controlling the boards on the inside. In a game at Faith Christian earlier this month, he gobbled up a career-high 29 rebounds. He is 10 rebounds shy of 1,000 for his career.
“He has worked really hard on the basketball court and in the weight room to become a player who can play any position on the court,” his father said. “This year we have had the luxury of having him in the post more and he has developed that part of his game.”
The 6-foot-3 Minnier has developed major parts of his game, too, even though he is most feared around the league for his 3-point shooting. He has made nearly 200 3-pointers in his three varsity years, including quite a few this season from beyond NBA range.
“Blaine has always loved to shoot the three, even when I would tell him he was too young,” Mark Eckert said. “He continues to work on his shooting form and quick release, but last summer he put more emphasis on driving the ball and his mid-range shot. He’s truly become a multi-dimensional threat offensively while remaining a deadly 3-point shooter. And defensively, he’s made a huge impact on the boards, which was also a focus for him going into this season.”
Minnier led the team in scoring last year with 503 points, and this year he is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds a game, with “double-doubles” in almost half of the games. This week he was selected to the MDCC first team after being a second-team choice last year.
“My wife Deb would baby-sit Blaine, and when he was two and three years old, she’d be with him in our rec room and he would shoot for hours – literally hours – at one of those Little Tikes baskets,” said Tom Coccagna, Blaine’s grandfather and one of his junior high coaches. “Then when he was in kindergarten and I’d take him to practice for the Upward program, they’d play at the seven-foot baskets, but he wanted to shoot at the regulation 10-foot baskets.”
“Blaine had to change roles this season by guarding bigger players inside,” Sanders said. “It’s been tough, but he’s been willing to do that. He has the willingness to do whatever the team needs most. That’s the most important thing for both him and Caleb.”
And now, as they near the end of their junior year, both players look to have something even more indelible than their names on a banner in the gym.
“Twenty wins. Win a championship,” said Minnier.
Part One: Mission accomplished. Part Two: To be determined this weekend.