PM Alum Led SVU In Scoring

PM Alum Led SVU In Scoring

SVU SENIOR guard Sam Armstrong, a 2014 PMHS graduate, dribbles around the perimeter during a game this season. Armstrong was named to All-Capital Athletic Conference Second Team after leading the conference in made 3-pointers (85) and leading the Knights in scoring with 14.1 points per game. (photo courtesy of SVU)

Armstrong On Hoops For Knights, Blues

A positive attitude, a strong work ethic and a good personality are all characteristics coaches speak of when talking about Southern Virginia University senior Sam Armstrong.

A Buena Vista native and a 2014 Parry McCluer High School graduate, Armstrong recently completed his final season for the SVU men’s basketball team.

A six-foot guard, Armstrong was selected to the AllCapital Athletic Conference Second Team and was named the CAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. A psychology major, Armstrong is a threetime CAC All-Academic recipient and was also named to the College Sports Information Directors of America All-District team this year.

Reflecting on the all-conference selection, Armstrong said, “There are just so many good players . . . in the conference that to get named to an all-conference team is quite the honor.”

In his senior season, Armstrong netted a career high in scoring, leading the Knights with 14.1 points per game while finishing seventh in the CAC. His career high in a game was 28 points, scored earlier this winter.

Armstrong led the conference in made 3-pointers, setting a program single-season record with 85 while also setting a program record for three’s in a game with seven. Armstrong shot 43.1 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from behind the arc.

“Sam was the best shooter in our conference and was always moving,” said SVU head coach Adam Wardenburg, who coached Armstrong for his senior season. “Sam was very hard to guard because he used screens very well and did not need any space to get his shot off. As a person, it was Sam’s work ethic and personality that set him apart. He always had a smile on his face and worked harder than everyone every day.”

He added, “Sam was an incredible player and a great leader for us.”

Wardenburg said his best memory of Armstrong was when he hit the game-winning shot in a 68-67 victory at Eastern Mennonite. “He originally missed a shot with eight seconds left, but then we got the rebound and he hit a shot with two seconds left to win the game,” he said. “It was incredible!”

Armstrong led SVU with 20 points in the win, which turned out to be the only victory for the Knights (1-25) this season, but they had many close games.

Armstrong, 24, is older than most college seniors because, following his graduation from PMHS, he spent two years serving a mission in Ogden, Utah for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It was an amazing experience, knocking on doors pretty much all day, trying to teach as many people as possible about Jesus Christ,” Armstrong said. “It was a really good time. I made lifelong memories and lifelong friends, and I feel like I definitely matured out there as well.”

When he returned from Utah to enroll at SVU, Armstrong told then-head coach Tony Caputo he was going to try out for basketball. Caputo coached Armstrong for his freshman and sophomore years, and then Greg Winslow was SVU’s head coach for Armstrong’s junior year. Armstrong said it was a little bit of an adjustment to get used to new coaches, “but they’ve been fairly smooth transitions.”

“All three of them have definitely helped me in a lot of different ways,” Armstrong said. “I think, especially, Coach Wardenburg, he displays this confidence in me that helped me gain more confidence in myself in that I actually was one of the best players in the conference and that I could accomplish a lot this season.”

On being a leader for the Knights this season, Armstrong said taking on the role was a little bit challenging at first, but added, “It kind of just seemed like the natural next step, being a four-year [player], but I had a great time. We had so many good players and so many good friends on the team that it was an awesome experience.”

Armstrong said he chose SVU because “it kind of seemed like the natural place to go. SVU has so many students from all over the country that come here, and it’s right here in my backyard, and I’m pretty lucky to have it here.”

Armstrong’s father, John, is a philosophy professor at SVU. His mother, Carol, teaches at Waddell Elementary School. Sam is married to Carmel Hardy Armstrong, a 2015 PMHS graduate who graduated from SVU last year and now teaches at Waddell. Sam has three siblings who are all PM alums: older sister Joanna and younger brothers Isaac and Ryan.

Playing At PMHS

Back in high school, Armstrong was a star at PMHS, playing for legendary coach Nelson Fox. His senior year, when he was a captain, was the last year for Fox at the helm of the Blues, who coached PM to over 500 wins in 35 years.

Reflecting on Armstrong’s prep tenure, Fox said, “Sam was a great player for us. He shot close to 80 percent from the foul line. He was one of our leading players on the team. He had to play out of position. He did a tremendous job having to play point guard his senior year. He’s really a shooting guard. Fine young man, and he’s a winner. He’s going to be a winner in everything he [does] in life.”

As a defender, although Armstrong wasn’t the quickest player, his hustle “was just tremendous,” Fox said. “He was always one of the hardest workers on the team. For us, he had to play defense on some of the best offensive players.”

“What impressed me most about Sam was his attitude,” Fox added. “You don’t find a player any better in attitude then Sam Armstrong.”

Fox added that Armstrong is “a very humble young man, and he deserves all the accolades that he received. He was a tremendous team player. I used to get after him to shoot more.”

“He definitely set me up for success,” said Armstrong of Fox. “He always preached the fundamentals, and that’s helped me both in high school and on the college level. He always preached hard work. That’s something that always really stuck with me.”

The highlight of Armstrong’s high school career was when the Blues made it to the Group A state semifinals in 2013, his junior year. The Blues went 20-7 and won the Pioneer District title that year and beat Castlewood 53-34 in the state quarterfinals before falling to West Point 62-53 in the semifinals.

Fox was able to get to a few SVU games over the last few years. “It was really fun to see him,” Armstrong said.

At PM, Armstrong also ran cross country and played baseball.

For the cross country team, coached by Chris Poluikis, Armstrong was the lead runner for the Blues from his sophomore through his senior years, competing at the Group A state meet all three years. The Blues placed second in the state during his sophomore and junior seasons, and were seventh when he was a senior. During his sophomore season, the Blues won their first regional championship in 28 years. Armstrong earned all-state honors (top 15) in his final two years, placing 15th as a junior and sixth as a senior, when he ran a personalrecord time of 16:46 on the 5-kilometer state meet course.

Armstrong has run some 5Ks in college, and he started going running again just after basketball season ended in late February. “Basketball always had me tired, and it’s kind of a different type of training,” Armstrong said. “We run [in basketball], but running’s kind of a different beast. That’s what I’m doing now to keep active.”

For the PM baseball team, Armstrong played second base for head coach Jason Coleman. He earned all-district and all-region honors as a junior and senior, with the Blues making the regional tournament his senior season.

Looking back fondly at his cross country and baseball experiences, Armstrong said both Poluikis and Coleman were great coaches.

Life After SVU

Armstrong will graduate this spring and intends to work for a year before going to law school. He said he’s especially interested in public interest, after taking a prelaw class at SVU. Armstrong has been interning some with Steve Baldridge, a pre-law advisor and an adjunct professor at SVU who has a law office in Buena Vista. “I think I’d be good at it,” he said, adding that he finds law “intellectually stimulating.”

As for basketball, Armstrong said he doesn’t think he wants to jump into coaching in the near future, but he’s not ruling it out down the road. “I love the game a lot, and I follow it really closely,” he said. “I’ll definitely play pickup ball whenever I can.”

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