PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: Eagles ready to take flightEDGERTON — The four seniors on the Southwest Christian boys’ basketball team tossed around a Frisbee and joked around with each other in the school’s gym before practice on Monday.
EDGERTON — The four seniors on the Southwest Christian boys’ basketball team tossed around a Frisbee and joked around with each other in the school’s gym before practice on Monday.
They didn’t appear to be anxious or nervous or overly excited. They just seemed relaxed and content.
With the team making a trip to the state tournament Thursday, where they will take on Fosston at 1 p.m. at Williams Arena, the Eagle athletes weren’t letting anything get to them.
In fact, for this senior class, a trip to the tournament is something they’ve been thinking about for a long time. And now that it’s finally here, they aren’t going to let their emotions get the best of them.
“This is definitely a good way to wrap everything up,” SWC forward Keeran Sampson said. “We’ve been dreaming of this. We could kind of see it since freshman year that we could be good and have potential later on in our careers and we’ve all been dreaming about that since then. We don’t want anything to take this dream away from us.”
Entering the tournament, the Eagles (26-1) are on a 20-game winning streak dating back to Jan. 12.
They have had their fair share of personal ups and downs all season, but SWC always seems to find a way to finish strong and move on to the next game.
The Eagles know there will be plenty of obstacles on their way to potentially winning a state championship, and although SWC was granted the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the team’s unseeded opponent isn’t one to overlook.
Fosston qualified for the state tournament last year — losing to Chisholm in the quarterfinal round. The Greyhounds have state experience under their belts. The Eagles do not.
But they’re not letting that slow them down.
“We’re tough,” SWC forward Andrew Top said. “Offensively nobody really cares who’s scoring. If teams try to shut down a couple of us, then those other guys step up and get us where we need to.
“And we always try to take little steps forward in defense every day. Even if we just get a little bit better that’s fine. We just don’t want to go backwards. And we haven’t.”
And even though none of the Eagle players have been to a state tournament, coach Jamie Pap has. He was a member of the 1999 SWC state championship team, so he has been doing his best to offer his advice to the athletes.
“He always said that the tournaments can be really hard and we’ve made it through a lot of tough games already,” SWC guard Damon Vander Maten said. “But obviously it’s not over yet and we still have to work really hard through these next three games. He told us to enjoy it because it goes by fast, but save the big celebration for when we’ve made it through these next three games.”
With four seniors on a team that has only one loss all year — a one-point heartbreaker to Worthington on Jan. 6 — this season has already been a good ending to a great career for each of them.
But the chance to walk off of the basketball court for the last time as a high schooler with a blue ribbon around their necks would be a memory of a lifetime for Sampson, Vander Maten, Top and Zach Huisken.
“It makes it extra special to be where we are in our senior year,” Top said. “You can go out and give it everything you have. You don’t have anything more to lose because these are the last games you’re going to play.”
But it’s not just the four seniors that have driven this team. Each SWC team member has been a driving force on the way to the state tournament.
The Eagles have had some impressive wins and have all been working toward the same goal all season.
And now that they’ve reached their goal of earning a trip to Williams Arena, they want to keep working hard to punch their ticket to the Target Center, where the semifinal and championship rounds are played.
“The reason we’re here is because we’ve had a hard working attitude the whole season,” Huisken said. “We’ve all believed in the same thing throughout the whole year and we’ve worked hard to get there.
“Obviously God’s blessed us extremely. I think we’re all working for that greater purpose that has gotten us this far.”
Daily Globe Sports Reporter Jocelyn Syrstad at 376-7335.