ALBANY -- It was already going to be difficult enough for Sherwood Christian Academy's boys basketball team to make the leap from Class AA to Class AAA next season, but now the Eagles will have to do it without Matt Ruta, who is returning to Florida for a job coaching at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee.
"That's a pretty big jump from AA basketball to AAA basketball,'' SCA athletic director Alan McWilliams said. "We have to find someone who can accept the responsibility and also convey that responsibility to the boys to get them mentality to that point.''
Sherwood is coming off a season in which it won the Region 3-AA title, but is losing several key seniors on a team that made a name for itself this season.
"If we had made the move (to AAA) this year we probably could have handled it a little better because we had a lot of seniors,'' McWilliams said. "We have some good young players on the team, but it's going to be a sharp learning curve.''
Sherwood is coming off a tremendous two-year run under Ruta, who turned the program around. Sherwood not only won its first region title since 2004, but Ruta's two-year record was 40-13 for a program that was on the losing end of so many games before the outgoing coach arrived from Orlando.
Ruta, who also taught math at Sherwood, is also going to be the Dean of Men at North Florida as well as the boys' basketball coach.
"We loved our time at Sherwood, and we hate to go,'' Ruta said. "This gives me a chance to be an administrator. That weighed heavy on my decision. Being the Dean of Men is a good opportunity, and they have a very good athletic program there. The baseball and football programs are awesome. They have struggled the past couple of years in basketball, but in the early 2000s they were consistently going to the playoffs.''
NFC was 8-17 last season, which gives Ruta a chance to turn another program around. Unlike Georgia, which has a separate organization (GISA) for private schools, Ruta's new team will compete against all Class AA schools in Florida, public and private.
"It's a great opportunity for him and his family,'' McWilliams said. "He's a personal friend, and I hate to see him go. But it's better for his family. He did a great job coaching and he was a great leader. He gave the boys a different mentality we didn't have before.'
"The year before he got here we won five games, and then we finished second in the region and went pretty far in the state tournament the first year he was here. And this year we won region. We got further than we had been (in a long time).''