Boys basketball: Southwest Christian dines together, wins together
The successes that Southwest Minnesota Christian’s boys basketball squad has gained on the hardwood has been nearly unparallelled over the past 15 years. Only the nearby Ellsworth Panthers have come close, earning two titles of their own in recent years.
With five state titles under their belts at SWC, accolades have neither come quickly or easily for the Eagles. Other than good old-fashioned hard work, the group leans on a unique brand of cohesion to foster what they accomplish on the court.
Southwest Christian’s entire team gathers at a player’s house before many of the varsity games for dinner. The Eagles have only one tradition at the meal, and that is cheesy potatoes. Various players use the time in their own ways to prepare themselves for the upcoming game, whether it be having fun with friends or taking last-minute peeks at game plans.
“Our team really loves the meal because we can go there after school and have a great time. We can have some fun friend time before games,” senior point guard Clayton Huisken said. “It gets us relaxed and mentally prepared for the game. It’s not mandatory but we love it and want to go.”
Huisken has averaged eight points per game so far and is one of the team’s three captains. Nate Pfeifle is a senior shooting guard and has chipped in 16 points-per game and six rebounds. Leighton Sampson, the team’s other senior captain, has averaged 20 points and eight boards per contest.
Southwest has had its tradition of pregame meals for several years. Head coach Jamie Pap, now in his ninth year at the helm of the program, even attended the meals when he was a player for the Eagles in the late-1990s. He and his wife Brigette have hosted the meals from time-to-time.
“I get to see a whole different side to the team (when we host the meal),” Brigette Pap said. “I see them as a team off the court. That is a totally different side to them. It is really neat to see their relationships grow off the court as well.
“I think Jamie likes for his teams to be able to build that mutual trust and mutual friendships between all of the age levels,” she continued, “from freshmen to seniors, whether you’re a stat person, manager, cameraman or a player.”
Pfeifle enjoys playing for his team because of the chemistry they have. He put together 18 points in last Friday night’s win over Adrian. It was a balanced team effort as the Eagles scored 89 points going away and had three players scoring in double figures.
“It means a lot to play for this team. We’re all good friends and it is a lot of fun,” Pfeifle said. “Playing basketball is just something we enjoy doing.”
Add in Sampson and the team has a versatile post player it can rely on. The 6-5 senior rounds out a senior class of seven for the club this winter. Other seniors on the team are Jake Robinson, Matthew Raak, Silas Top and Brent Gorter.
“We’ve been working the ball around a lot and try to get out in transition and we fast break a lot. We hope to keep up the good work,” Sampson said. “It’s a lot of fun to be on this team together because we have really strong bonds.”
“I definitely think this group is one of a kind. They’ve grown together in many ways,” Brigette Pap agreed. “When they eat as a team, it just enhances that maturity they get as a team. They’re a great group of guys.”
Southwest Christian travels to Mountain Lake Area Friday night for a battle of unbeaten teams. Although it is a big game for early season small-school basketball supremacy across the area and is a big game within the Red Rock Conference, Coach Pap said the team’s approach remains one game at a time.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time. It’s a big conference game for us and we’ll go in there and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “We’re worried about Mountain Lake right now and then we’ll take the next game for the schedule.
“Our guys are very coachable and they work hard,” he concluded. “The guys have been really great, hard-working Christian young men.”