It’s almost a rite of passage for boys basketball players at Montverde Academy.

An opportunity to play for a national championship.

This year will be no different for the Eagles. Under coach Kevin Boyle, Montverde Academy has compiled a 32-0 record, including a heart-stopping win against Henderson (Nevada) Findlay Prep in January in the championship game at the Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament.

And on Tuesday, the Eagles learned they had been invited to play in the prestigious Geico High School Basketball Nationals later this month in New York City.

Montverde Academy, the No. 1 team in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 rankings, will head a field of eight boys teams and four girls teams in the three-day tournament, which begins March 29 at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, New York. The winner is considered by many prep basketball pundits to be the top team in the nation.

The Eagles, who won three straight national championships from 2013-2015, have played in the tournament in every year of its existence with the exception of 2009 and 2011. Montverde Academy’s opening-round opponent at 6 p.m. March 29 will be Highland (Utah) Lone Peak, which the Eagles beat 77-52 in the 2017 MAIT.

ESPNU will broadcast the game live. The tournament championship is set for noon March 31, and will be televised on ESPN.

Montverde Academy is one of two teams from Florida in the field. Fort Lauderdale University, which won the Class 5A state championship and is ranked third in the Xcellent 25, will face Phoenix Shadow Mountain in its first-round game.

All-star game

The Corey Rolle Lake-Sumter All-Star basketball game will be played at 7 p.m. March 29 at Mount Dora High School.

Many of Lake and Sumter counties’ top seniors will take part in the game, along with slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests.

Mount Dora boys coach Ariel Betancourt, who helps organize the annual event, said he’s awaiting work from local coaches before he can finalize rosters for the game and the skill competitions. Players from every local public and private school — with the exception of Montverde Academy — often take part.

Betancourt said preliminary competition for the 3-point shooting contest will begin at 6 p.m., with the finals and the slam-dunk contest taking place after the game.

The game is named for Corey Rolle, a Eustis grad who led the Panthers to the Class 4A Final Four in 2008. Rolle died in 2010 at age 33, after suffering a stroke that doctors believed might have caused by complications from diabetes.

Tickets are $3.

Next level

A pair of local student athletes began shoring up their future college plans over the past week.

Eustis junior Kayla Betts, a pitcher and infielder on the Panthers’ softball team, verbally committed to attend St. Leo University.

Betts won her first four starts for the Panthers in the circle this season. She has 27 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched.

Betts also is hitting .286 with eight runs scored and five stolen bases.

Verbal commitments are not binding, meaning players are free to change their minds about their college of choice.

In addition, Wildwood junior Kanyon Walker received offers from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Walker, a former First Academy of Leesburg standout who transferred to Wildwood in January, was a four-year standout with the Eagles. In 2017, his final season at First Academy, Walker displayed a wide array of skills.

Offensively, he rushed for 214 yards and caught 25 passes for 285 yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Walker was in on 81 tackles (32 solo) and forced two fumbles while recovering one.

Walker is expected to play at Wildwood in 2018.

Softball

Five softball programs from Lake and Sumter counties earned spots in this week’s Miracle Sports softball rankings.

The five — Eustis, East Ridge, The Villages, Montverde Academy and Mount Dora Christian Academy — were ranked in a variety of classifications from Class 8A (East Ridge) to Class 2A (MDCA).

As has been the case all season, Eustis (8-2) is area’s top-ranked program. Despite losing back-to-back games at home last week for the first time in nearly five years, the Panthers dropped only one spot to No. 3 in the Class 5A poll.

Eustis did drop out of the All-Classification rankings.

Also in Class 5A, The Villages (8-1) received honorable mention.

In Class 8A, East Ridge (10-1) continued its climb in the poll. The Knights moved up one spot from last week to No. 9.

Montverde Academy (7-4) earned honorable mention in Class 4A.

In Class 2A, MDCA (10-2) maintained its status with an unbeaten week and is ranked eighth.

Baseball

Montverde Academy’s boys basketball and soccer programs might need to make room for its baseball team on the national stage.

The Eagles are off to a 10-0 start this season, led by Florida State commit Nander De Sedas, and are ranked 10th in MaxPreps Xcellent 25 Writers’ poll.

Montverde Academy competes as an FHSAA Independent in baseball, meaning it is not eligible to play for a state championship. Most recently, the Eagles won the Blue Division championship at the Perfect Game Showdown with a 6-2 win against Warner Robbins (Georgia) Houston County.

The Eagles are one of three teams from Florida in the Top 10 … Plantation American Heritage is the top-ranked team and Clearwater Calvary Christian is No. 4.