Wolverines Emerge As An Established Local Basketball Power

Wolverine senior Cornelius Butler moves the ball in the regional quarterfinal against Lake Worth.

The Wellington High School basketball program has established itself as a local authority on winning. During the 2019 season, the Wolverines overcame early adversity to win its sixth-straight district title, back-to-back regional championships and made its second-straight state finals appearance in Lakeland.

Wellington earned the Class 9A state runner-up title after falling to Osceola High School, finishing the season with a 25-7 overall record. In 2018, the Wolverines were senior loaded and went unbeaten 31-0 before losing the state final match to Oak Ridge High School. Early on this season, it was not expected that Wellington would appear in the state finals.

“I think we had to keep pounding the message to stick together, continue to work to become the best defensive team we could be, because we did go through offensive droughts,” said Wellington head coach Matt Colin, now in his 11th year with the Wolverines. “Our defense would keep us in games. Players also took accountability and finally were OK with the roles that we established for them. Once that happened, we were rolling. Despite the loss to Atlantic and Osceola, we finished the second half of the season 14-2.”

Several players stepped up to take leadership roles for the Wolverines after team captains Danny Valentin and Sean Smith sustained season-ending injuries. Senior Linton Brown averaged 21.5 points per game and 7.5 rebounds. He also managed to break 1,000 career points and was named player of the year by the Sun-Sentinel.

Sophomore Chris Walker led the team in three-point baskets with 57 and was second on the team in scoring and rebounding. Junior point guard Jagger Ruiz was a change mid-season that helped impact Wellington’s game. He’s a crafty playmaker who scored and defended well. “Senior Cornelius Butler was one of the best defensive stoppers in the state,” Colin added. “He guarded the other team’s best players and shut them down.”

As the Wolverines clawed through opponents during the second half of the season, they cruised to their sixth-straight district title and eventually traveled down to Broward and faced Cypress Bay High School in the regional finals. De’ante Perez’ half court buzzer-beater lifted Wellington 40-37 and pushed them into the state tournament as the regional champs.

“We were very excited to have the opportunity to go back to states,” Colin said. “That was one of the toughest, most grueling games I’ve ever been a part of. No team wanted to give an inch. I think there was a lot of emotion from our guys because of how tough of a game it was and the great environment, with the Cypress Bay fans, we were playing in.”

In Lakeland, the Wolverines defeated Evans High School 50-32 in the semifinal match, which powered them into the finals against Osceola. Wellington held a 30-23 lead at halftime but could not hold the early momentum to the final whistle, falling 50-43.

Despite the loss, it serves as a benchmark for next year’s squad, and with six graduating, there will be work ahead for Colin and his crew. “We will be on a quest again to find leadership this summer and see who steps up and fills roles,” he explained. “We always have high expectations. We always set short-term and long-term goals. You’ll always have a Wolverine team that plays hard, is defensively sound and competes on every possession.”

In the wake of Wellington’s consistent success, the team has definitely established itself not just as local dominant power, but also a force to be reckoned with in the state’s Class 9A.