All-County Basketball: Hallberg engineered Eagles’ turnaround

Published 8:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

Heading into the 2021-22 season, his second as Porter’s Chapel Academy’s boys basketball coach, Walter Hallberg had modest goals for his team.

Get out of the district tournament for the first time in several years. Finish with a winning record. Take another step forward as a program.

It quickly became apparent that he and the rest of the Eagles would have to adjust their expectations.

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“At the start of the year, my goal was to get out of the district tournament which we hadn’t done in six or eight years. Halfway through the year, we got to Christmas and had only lost to Greenville Christian,” Hallberg said. “I said to the guys that we’re going to be the No. 2 seed and we’re already there, so let’s change that goal to let’s get to the state tournament. Then we hit that goal and it was, ‘Hey, let’s do something nobody has done in nine years.’”

With their goals recalibrated, the Eagles again exceeded all expectations. They got to the state tournament. They got to the MAIS Overall Tournament. They finished with a 22-14 record, their best since winning the Class A championship in 2013.
For turning around a program that had been stuck in neutral for nearly a decade, Hallberg was selected as the 2022 Vicksburg Post basketball Coach of the Year.

“It’s a big accomplishment. I owe more of it to them than to me,” Hallberg said, referring to his players. “I gave them the stuff they needed to do to get better. They’re the ones that had to put in the work to do it, and here we are.”

Hallberg said PCA’s turnaround began last season, with the addition of three key players — Chris Taylor, Nick Williams and Lawson Selby. All three averaged in double figures in scoring this season and were selected to the Vicksburg Post’s All-County team. Taylor is the boys Player of the Year.

Unlike most athletes at PCA, Taylor, Williams and Selby only play one sport. Hallberg said that allowed them to put in some extra work last summer and form a strong core to build around.

“At a small school like this, there’s so many multi-sport kids. My football players had one practice before our first game. So it was good to have Nick, who was just a basketball guy. Lawson and Chris were just basketball guys,” Hallberg said. “I had more guys this year that were just basketball guys, and we got to focus on just basketball. We were in better shape than everybody.”

Besides being talented players, the trio blended with their teammates to create a remarkable and rare bit of perfect chemistry and complementary skills.

Taylor, Lawson and Selby provided most of the scoring. Role players like Willie Rogers and Tyler Washington did the dirty work of rebounding and defending inside. Others like Taylor LaBarre came off the bench to give a spark and scoring depth.

“I don’t think I had one player or parent problem with playing time. Everybody kind of knew what you could do,” Hallberg said. “I had some good ninth-graders that played some high school and it didn’t seem to bother any of the high school guys that they got so much playing time. Everybody bought in and we had good senior leadership.”

By mid-December, it was obvious that PCA was heading toward a good season. It was just a question of how good it could get. The program had not won a game beyond the district tournament since 2013, but it went into that first phase of the MAIS Class 3A playoffs with a berth in the South State tournament in hand.

The Eagles won two games at the South State tournament to advance to the next round. PCA lost to Tunica Academy in the semifinals of the state tournament, but won the consolation game to finish third and advance to the Overall Tournament for just the second time in school history.

The trip to Overall capped a remarkable turnaround. Besides the postseason success, the Eagles nearly doubled last season’s win total.

“Everybody did what they needed to do for us to get better,” Hallberg said. “Everybody was much better this year than they were last year, from the best players to the role players.”

Hallberg is already setting goals for next season. The Eagles will take some heavy losses from graduation — Taylor, Williams, Washington and Rogers are among this year’s seniors — but Selby will be back. Some promising junior high players and a couple of transfers should flesh out the ranks.

With a taste of success and some positive momentum, Hallberg said, the biggest goal for next season is to ensure this year’s run was not a one-off.

“Last year’s ninth-grade class was really good. This year’s ninth-grade class is really good. Obviously we’re losing a lot, but we’ve already got some interest from people wanting to transfer in from other schools,” Hallberg said. “We have to follow that up and see how it goes. We’ve got a good group coming back next year. I don’t plan on taking a step back at all. I’m hoping 20-win seasons are the norm now and not once every 10 years.”

Vicksburg Post Basketball Coaches of the Year
2022 – Walter Hallberg, Porter’s Chapel
2021 – Troy Stewart, Vicksburg
2020 – Troy Stewart, Vicksburg
2019 – Eddie Pickle, St. Aloysius
2018 – Bruce Robinson, Warren Central
2017 – Jackie Glass, Warren Central
2016 – Jackie Glass, Warren Central
2015 – Jackie Glass, Warren Central
2014 – Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2013 – E.J. Creel, Porters Chapel
2012 – E.J. Creel, Porters Chapel
2011 – Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2010 – Jackie Martin-Glass, Warren Central
2009 – Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2008 – Dellie. C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2007 – Kyt Bonner, St. Aloysius and Penn Majors, St. Aloysius
2006 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Drew McBrayer, St. Aloysius
2005 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Mike Grzanich, Porters Chapel
2004 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Jesse Johnson, Warren Central
2003 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2002 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2001 – Mitchell Willis, Porters Chapel and Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
2000 – Mike Coleman, Vicksburg and Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
1999 – Debbie Carr, Porters Chapel and Noah Hamilton, St. Aloysius
1998 – Debbie Carr, Porters Chapel and John Duett, Warren Central
1997 – Doc Stephens, Vicksburg and Kenny Bizot, Porters Chapel
1996 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
1995 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and Dellie C. Robinson, Vicksburg
1994 – Donny Fuller, Warren Central and John Duett, Warren Central
Note: From 1994-2007 both a girls and boys Coach of the Year was selected. Since 2008 only one overall Coach of the Year has been selected.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 139-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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