The long climb of a rebuilding project inherited by Head Coach Dave Ruemenapp in 2016-17 reached its summit in 2018-19, as the Falcons went undefeated in district play and won the first district tournament championship in school history. Their 21-6 campaign created hoops hysteria like never before on campus and was followed by several notable post-season awards.

Senior guard Cade Westberry was named the Florida Athletic Coaches Association’s 3A District 16 Player of the Year. He also went on to represent the Falcons in the annual Manatee vs. Sarasota all-star game at Lakewood Ranch High, where he won the pre-game 3-point shooting contest. Ruemenapp joined his star player on the District 16 team as Coach of the Year and was invited to serve as co-head coach for the South team in the FACA All-Star Basketball Classic at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

The Falcons have established a winning culture by qualifying for back-to-back post-season bids, their first since 1999. Ruemenapp took over a Saint Stephen’s program in 2016 that had not had a winning season since 2009-10, but he has lived up to his resume. Ruemenapp previously directed impressive turnarounds of programs in Texas, North Carolina and Florida. At Orlando’s Lake Highland Prep, he inherited a 6-21 team and compiled a 71-34 record in four seasons, including the school’s first district title in 20 years and a regional final appearance.

The Falcons are 36-16 over the past two seasons and have only lost one regular-season district game during that stretch (19-1). The 2017-18 campaign produced the school’s first regional playoff berth in nearly two decades and the Falcons hosted a regional game last season. SSES has failed to advance past that regional playoff opener with losses to Naples First Baptist Academy (2018) and Fort Myers Canterbury (2019). That remains the next hurdle for Ruemenapp’s emerging Falcons to get over.

Senior Ty Barker, the leading scorer (15 ppg) and No. 2 rebounder (7 rpg) from a year ago, will lead the way in 2019-2020 along with sturdy senior forward Cam Vining (6 ppg/3.5 rpg). Barker will no doubt finish his career as a 1,000-point, 500-rebound performer for the Falcons. With six graduated seniors moved on, Ruemanapp will need some new faces and role players from a year ago like Matthew Konkol, Dylan Davis and Connor Davis to step forward and produce if the program is to continue its upward momentum.