PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: Eagles’ run was a memorable oneMINNEAPOLIS — If someone had told Southwest Christian boys’ basketball coach Jamie Pap at the beginning of the season his team would finish the year as the Class A state runner-up, he would have been elated.
MINNEAPOLIS — If someone had told Southwest Christian boys’ basketball coach Jamie Pap at the beginning of the season his team would finish the year as the Class A state runner-up, he would have been elated.
Although emotions were running high after the Eagles’ 54-45 loss to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the Class A championship game Saturday afternoon, Pap was pleased with his team’s performance this season.
The Eagles finished the year as the No. 2 team in the state and had an overall record of 28-2.
And that kind of season doesn’t leave much room for disappointment.
“It’s been amazing,” SWC senior Zach Huisken said. “There’s nothing to complain about. We stuck together all year. I’m just proud of everyone on my team for what they’ve done this year. It’s just been a fun ride. I couldn’t ask for any better way to go out as a senior. There’s no better group of guys to play with and play for. It’s been fun.”
The Eagles started off the season with six-straight wins. Their only fall of the regular season came on Jan. 6 when they dropped a one-point decision to Worthington.
SWC had the ball in their possession to close out the game, but a traveling call gave the ball — and the game — to the Trojans. Worthington won that game 79-78.
But that was just a slight hiccup in an otherwise great season.
After that game, the Eagles went on a 22-game winning streak, not losing at all during the whole month of February.
That streak included the first two rounds of the state tournament. In the quarterfinals, the Eagles defeated Fosston 59-41 to guarantee two more games in their season. SWC then defeated Rushford-Peterson 46-44 to advance to the championship game.
The Class A title game didn’t go as the Eagles would have liked. Ending the season on a loss is never a fun thing to do, but reflecting on their entire season, the players quickly remembered how great of a run they put together.
“This was just a great group of guys,” Pap said. “Everyone came together. We never had guys yelling at each other, everyone got along so well. To finish the year 28-2, wow, that’s pretty good.”
It was that camaraderie that propelled the Eagles to the final game of the season in Class A.
“Just trusting each other, working hard and just believing in the same thing all season brought us here,” Huisken said. “We never let down on each other, we never gave up. We just kept believing that there was a plan for us and we rode that plan out until the end. This is what was in store for us and you can’t complain.”
For four Eagles, the championship game marked the end of a high school career. Huisken, Andrew Top, Keeran Sampson and Damon Vander Maten will all graduate this spring.
And each athlete will be missed.
Pap said Vander Maten, although the only senior who wasn’t a starter, accepted his role and contributed off the bench. The coach said Vander Maten was key in the first round section playoff game against Hills-Beaver Creek, making key baskets that propelled SWC to the next round and eventually to the state tournament.
Sampson was praised by the coaching staff for hitting a lot of shots over his career, mainly during his senior season. He was also described as a relaxed teammate who helped keep SWC loose and at ease on the court.
Top, Pap said, was an incredible leader for the Eagles. He laid everything out on the court each and every game and came through for the Eagles in tough games and situations.
And Huisken — arguably the greatest player in SWC history — was described by his coaches as a class act who dealt with a lot of pressure throughout his career, but always came through and handled that pressure well.
“Zach is the best player I’ve ever coached,” Pap said. “And him and Andrew together are bar none the best duo, the best tandem, I’ve ever had on the same team together. They’re both going to be missed.”
And the seniors are going to miss the team as well.
The soon-to-be graduates would’ve rather ended their career with gold medals being placed around their necks, but they aren’t going to complain at all about the silver ones they received instead.
As they reflect on their time on the team, they are reminded of numerous good memories and friendships and know any negative memories will soon fade into the past.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Top said. “The camaraderie of the whole team and how well we get along has been fantastic. I really couldn’t ask for anything better, other than winning the championship game, obviously. It’s kind of a rough way to go out, but I’m extremely proud of these guys and how hard they fought.
“This season, these past four seasons, are something I’m never going to forget. It’s been great.”
Daily Globe Sports Reporter Jocelyn Syrstad can be reached at 376-7335.