High School Sports

Mater Lakes building a contender despite obstacles

Mater Lakes' Alex Cuevas drives to the basket against Monsignor Pace during Wednesday night’s game.
Mater Lakes' Alex Cuevas drives to the basket against Monsignor Pace during Wednesday night’s game. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Mater Lakes boys’ basketball team doesn’t have its own gym, own locker rooms, and quite often a place to practice indoors.

But what the Bears might own come Friday night is a district championship.

With its 100-95 victory over Monsignor Pace on Wednesday night, Mater Lakes (18-6) secured its second consecutive berth in the regional playoffs and will have a chance to win the school’s first district title Friday when it faces Booker T. Washington at 7 p.m. at Pace in the 15-5A title game.

The lack of amenities that most high school teams take for granted hasn’t hindered a young Mater Lakes squad from becoming a winning program in only its eighth year of existence.

“When people first heard I was taking the job at this school, they thought I was crazy,” said Mater Lakes coach Juan Urbina, who is in his fourth season coaching the Bears after coaching five years prior at Dillard, his alma mater. “But my friends and coaches at Dillard supported me and helped me get ready to be a head coach.”

Without a home gym, Mater Lakes has hosted its district home games at the Miami Job Corps center in Miami Gardens near their campus.

But the bigger challenge is day-to-day practice.

When no indoor facilities are available, the Bears take to the outdoor courts at parks near the school to practice. This often limits the kinds of drills the team can run in order to avoid the risks of practicing on concrete floors and in the intense outdoor heat at certain times of the season.

Urbina, 34, was used to quite the opposite circumstances when he played in high school.

Urbina played on Dillard’s state championship teams in 2000 and 2001, playing in large arenas on one of the state and nation’s best programs.

Urbina said overcoming the adversity together has brought his team closer and made them more appreciative of any opportunity.

This season, the Bears have gained a large following in the community, even playing a couple of games before large crowds at St. Thomas University.

Mater Lakes went 18-7 last season, nearly winning its district before losing in the regional quarterfinals to Westminster Christian, a state semifinalist a year ago. The expectations are higher this season for a team that went 10-0 in its district and played some of the top teams in South Florida, including Mater Academy, Sagemont and Norland.

Led by 6-5 sophomore Cyrus Largie (23 points per game) and 5-9 senior guard Jurik Morales (27 points per game), who are responsible for the bulk of the team’s scoring, the Bears are hoping to win their first regional game and make a deep push in Class 5A.

Urbina said he’s extremely proud of his team’s performance in the classroom as 11 of the 14 players on the roster, including seniors Giano Stringfellow and Paul Rodriguez, are honor roll students.

“It’s been great to witness a group of young men come together and overcome and push through the adversity and challenges that came with building this program,” Urbina said.