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‘Changing a culture’: Matt MacGinnis leads new era of Warner Christian boys basketball

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SOUTH DAYTONA — With a new head coach and several new teammates, this team feels different to Kayleb Goolsby and Kaden South. The level they’re playing at does not.

Yet.

Goolsby and South, along with senior David Hardy, serve as captains on Warner Christian Academy’s first varsity boys basketball squad since 2018-19. Their first-year coach, Matt MacGinnis, remembers that team well.

He was on it.

So when the 23-year-old, who spent the last four years playing at Johnson University Florida in Kissimmee, got hired at his alma mater as a physical education teacher and hoops coach in March, he pushed to bring the varsity program back. Since MacGinnis’ graduation in 2019, Warner Christian has sponsored a junior varsity program, not a varsity one.

This is the first time it will feature middle school, JV and varsity teams since 2014-15.

“We didn’t know how many people we were going to have, but I wanted to push the issue that, even though it might be a team full of sophomores, juniors, maybe a couple seniors, they needed to get the varsity experience,” said MacGinnis, who coached a middle school boys team at Kissimmee Christian Academy last season. “I pushed it and pushed it, and eventually, the people started coming in.”

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MacGinnis was correct about having only a couple seniors. His roster includes two — Hardy and Christian Nicholas. But he drew enough players, 10, to use a full bench.

Goolsby and South lead a five-player junior class. Both competed for Warner Christian’s JV crew last year and now fill the point guard and shooting guard spots in MacGinnis’ starting lineup.

“It’s way more energy,” South said. “We have more talent, too.”

Same with their coaching staff. MacGinnis recruited plenty of experience.

Adrian Thomas coached the Eagles’ junior varsity team last year. He returns in that capacity this year but will assist with the varsity team. Paul Leon, the former coach of Calusa Prep in Miami, relocated to the area for a job and will lead Warner Christian’s middle school program while also helping MacGinnis. And Justin Vallejo will contribute as MacGinnis’ player development coach after piloting Atlantic’s varsity boys team the past two seasons.

Their focus starts on the defensive side of the floor. MacGinnis preaches the “kill system.” If the Eagles’ defense makes four stops in a row, that counts as a kill. Stack enough of those during a game and they’re bound to like the results.

“Teams that get 9-to-10 kills per game are going to win 95% of the games,” MacGinnis said. “We’ve kind of implemented that as the DNA of our program. We go out there, and it’s almost like a game. We’re going to get defensive stops, which is going to translate to offense.”

But there is that jump in level. Warner Christian’s players have never suited up for varsity ball, and it’s different, MacGinnis said.

Louder gyms, better competition and more contests on their schedule.

“I’m ready,” Goolsby said. “It feels good. I love my teammates and have an amazing coaching staff.”

They played two preseason classics, and in their first official test, they looked ready. 

The Eagles erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter of their season opener against Calvary Christian to force overtime Monday. They pulled out a 62-60 victory in double OT.

Goolsby and Nicholas tied for the team lead with 16 points each. Junior Benjamin Glenfield collected 15 rebounds.

“Every day, I preach that this is the start of a new program here at WCA,” MacGinnis said. “At every practice, there are going to be ups and downs. You’re going to have your practices where they’re not necessarily locked in and they’re tired and stuff. But I do my best to remind them that they’re changing the culture here and that it’s super important that they set the standards of what changing a culture looks like.”

Their goal is a district championship — something MacGinnis never won during his high school career.

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MacGinnis isn’t far removed from high school or his playing days. He remains active in practice, pacing the Eagles through drills, and when they’re going through warmups and sprinting up and down the same Warner Christian hardwood, it brings back memories.

“It’s very nostalgic,” MacGinnis said. “It makes me more passionate … Every time I see them playing together, it’s just very inspiring. It just makes me remember why I’m here and why I wanted to come back. I didn’t get to experience a lot of those big wins I think they can experience.”

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