Max Sollars is eagerly awaiting his third season at the helm of the Van Horn boys basketball team.
As he anticipates that season, he is keeping his squad busy with appearances in a number of highly competitive summer leagues and tournaments.
They knocked off top-seed Blue Valley North after an 0-3 start against rugged competition in the recent 810 Summer Varsity Shootout and went undefeated in an Oak Grove summer league.
They boast one of the most exciting young players in the area in junior guard Jaden Monday, who averaged 21 points a game as a sophomore and more than 30 points a game this summer in 40-minute, running-clock contests.
A program that once struggled is now getting recognized. Along with William Chrisman and Truman – two programs that are also on the rise – the Falcons are setting their 2019-20 sights on goals that could not have been imagined five to 10 years ago.
“We’re done with all our leagues and games this summer, but our guys like Jaden have a lot of AAU ball to play,” Sollars said on a rare afternoon away from the game he loves. “It was an exciting summer and our guys continue to improve. I know it’s just the summer, and the games don’t count, but I can’t wait to see what we do this upcoming year. I was an assistant one year and it will be my third year as the head coach, so the guys are all used to me and I know what to expect from them.
“They know what to do at practice and we don’t have to go over so many sets, things that can take a lot of time. We’re going to be ready from day one and I can’t wait.”
When asked about last season – in which the 5-2 Falcons tied for first in the Crossroads Conference and finished with a 13-13 overall record – Sollars pointed to a season-ending 66-53 loss to Raytown South in the district semifinals.
“That’s the game where the guys really learned that they could play with anyone, even though we lost,” Sollars said.
The Cardinals had been a state qualifier the past four years and few thought that Falcons deserved to be on the same court with South.
But the Falcons led 20-19 after the first quarter and trailed just 36-32 at halftime.
Monday had a 3-point play to open the second half to cut the deficit to one, and his layup with 5 minutes remaining tied it at 37.
“We played three great quarters of basketball, but just ran out of gas in the end because we basically play six guys,” Sollars explained. “It was our second best game of the year (following a 78-59 win over Odessa in the district opener), and it showed the guys what we’re capable of doing.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win state this year, but we’re going to win a lot of games and we’re going to keep getting better and better.
“And you know what? It’s an exciting time to be a part of basketball in Independence with Jake (Kates, coach) and Isaiah (Jackson, player) at Chrisman and Rod (Briggs, coach) and Kaiden (Lennox, player) at Truman.
“They are two great coaches and two great players and things are turning around in Independence when it comes to boys basketball, and I am so darned excited to be a part of what’s happening here at Van Horn.”
While he appreciates the success of the boys basketball team, Sollars will take no credit for the cultural change that is going on throughout the high school, which has been a part of the Independence School District 12 years.
“The kids are changing the culture,” Sollars said. “We have a great leader in (activities director) Chris Corrie, who gives us everything we need to succeed, and we have the greatest kids – Shaun (Ross) in football, Angel (DeAvila) in soccer, Jaden in basketball – and I could go on and on.
“And the kids in sports are the kids in music, and the theater department and all the other great things at Van Horn. I am so blessed to be a part of it. I count my blessings every day.”