S-J basketball games with Westbrook were must-see
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Globe is running a semi-regular sports feature reliving area coaches’ favorite coaching memories. We encourage all area coaches to submit their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org . They will be reprinted in The Globe sports section. Today we change gears, sort of, and feature a submission not from an area coach, but from a former athlete at Westbrook, Mark Kjorness:
It’s 5 p.m. on Jan. 16, 1981 outside the Storden gym on a cold winter’s night, and a long line of fans has already assembled extending out to the adjacent grain elevator. By 5:30 in the gym, the announcer makes the first of many pleas: “We expect a big crowd tonight, and ask that everyone squeeze into the middle so we can open up more seats on the outside.”
By the time the C squad game starts, the gym is already packed and loud.
It was well known at the time that you had to be at the gym early if you wanted to get a good seat for a Storden-Jeffers and Westbrook boys basketball game. Never was a C squad game watched so intensely in anticipation for the varsity game to come, which would for sure deliver a great game.
We’ve all heard about the famous rivalries Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and Duke-North Carolina, but if you grew up on Highway 30 in Cottonwood County in the 1970s and 1980s, there was one rivalry that was more important, and that was SJ/Westbrook. From east to west, Jeffers, Storden, and Westbrook with Dovray were roughly six miles each apart on Highway 30.
When the rivalry started is not known exactly, and some can trace it back to baseball in the 1920s, but I will leave that to the old-timers to debate. Based on location, a natural rivalry did develop, and the Westbrook rivalry with both Storden and Jeffers began to flourish.
With Storden-Jeffers pairing together in 1971, the rivalry increased in intensity, and grew as both programs gained success. From 1971 to 1986, Storden-Jeffers and Westbrook would win a combined nine Red Rock conference basketball titles.
The rivalry extended to all sports (in track, for example, between 1974-1986 either Westbrook or S-J won the Red Rock conference meet every year). By the time I started to watch games in the mid-1970s as a kid, it was certain we looked forward to the S-J games all year and would talk about them all year.
The Storden gym was always a special place for us. It was an old-style gym with a stage on one side. Many of us first played in the gym for the 5th-6th-grade basketball tournament there, and would see many more games there over the years. The gym, for some reason, was known to have the most springy floor in the Red Rock, which during our senior year in ‘86, Jim Kvilhaug would sprint on a breakaway and almost have a tomahawk dunk. The Storden basket rims were also loose with good give, and ideal for shooting.
The gym saw many high-scoring games. Back to the 1981 game, at the time S-J and Westbrook were the top teams in the area. Denny Turner, S-J coach, was in his 17th year with the Chiefs, and Steve Kjorness was in his 13th year leading the Wildcats. The stage was set for an epic game.
The floor was chocked full of local basketball stars. S-J had an awesome veteran lineup consisting of seniors Brad Witt, Curt Erickson and Mark Iverson, junior Randy Witt and sophomore Robert Weber. Brad Witt and Iverson were the post players and were 6-4, 6-5 and physical, tough inside players.
Brad was a great all-around athlete and also a star as a running back in football, and at track and field. As a basketball player, he was tough on offense and defense and could face-up and hit 10- to 12-footers while also pounding the offensive boards.
Mark had great back-to-the-basket post moves with McHale-like footwork, and used the board effectively. Weber, the point guard and a fierce competitor, ran the show, and was a pass-first left-hander who could penetrate extremely well and hit the open man.
His favorite target was the off guard, Erickson. Curt was a great shooter, especially from the corners, and also a super athlete in multiple sports. At small forward, Randy Witt at 6-2 ran the wings, and was a slasher-driver type going to the basket. He also wore Adidas Top Ten shoes, which at the time were the most coveted basketball shoes for any young hoopster in the area.
For Westbrook, a younger team was on the floor with one senior, David Mischke, two juniors Tim Boeck and Randall Comnick, and sophomores Steve Elzenga and Curt Mischke. David and Curt are brothers, and their nephew, Ethan, is now a top player on the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers team.
David Mischke, as the lone senior starting, was a great leader, strong defensive player, and to this day still plays pickup ball games. Tim Boeck was a high-scoring No. 2 guard who could shoot and drive, and was a great leaper. Tim would later go on to be a state champ in the 300 hurdles, and also created the Boeck rule in my house, which was if Tim called you and he wanted to play a pick-up hoops game, the answer is always yes.
Randall Comnick was a 6-2 bruising power forward with a soft touch from 12 to 15 feet, great hands, and a superb athlete. Curt Mischke, a 6-2 forward, was the ultimate glue guy, and could do it all: rugged defender, great passer, and clutch player. Steve Elzenga, 6-2, was the point guard, and as a sophomore had already established himself as one of the best guards in the area. The ultimate competitor and later all-state in two sports, Steve could score outside and inside, and was also a lockdown defensive stalwart.
The Chiefs were favored in the game, and after losing the first game of the year to Heron Lake-Okabena were on a 10-plus game winning streak. Westbrook was off to a great start as well, and was 10-1 at the time. S-J was a fast-breaking team, and the break started with either a Witt or Iverson rebound then a quick pass to Weber. Weber would quickly dribble to mid-court and on the same side Erickson would run to the corner. Weber would either go first to Erickson in the corner, penetrate more, or drop off to one of the Witts following up in the middle.
The Wildcat team played a more deliberate style and relied on a 2-1-2 zone with Elzenga and Boeck upfront, which made it difficult for any defense to get into their offense.
With the crowd growing restless and tucked in close, the game opened with a tight first quarter with S-J leading 17-14. Establishing a strong inside game, Brad Witt had 10 points right off the bat. Brad, at 6’4’ and 215 pounds, was very athletic around the rim, and tough to keep off of the offensive boards. Boeck started hot with six points from the outside, and was always lethal from the wings.
In the second quarter, S-J continued to push the ball inside and Iverson had eight points in the quarter on a series of post-up moves. Boeck continued his great shooting, and added eight more in the quarter for 14 points.
With S-J up 33-27 at the half, all the fans were ready for a big second half, and the third quarter delivered one of the most entertaining quarters of basketball that I can remember in a high school game. Both teams scored nearly every time down the court, and S-J scored 26 points in the quarter and Westbrook had 20.
S-J went back inside to Brad Witt, and he had 10 in the quarter with most on free throws. Elzenga in his breakthrough performance could not miss and had 13 in the quarter and was making shots all over the court.
At this point, both teams were matching baskets, but S-J was keeping a 6- to 10- point lead into the fourth quarter.
The final quarter was a wild one with many fouls called as both teams battled. Iverson finished up the game hitting five of six free throws, and S-J held off a Westbrook rally at the end of the game, winning 75-65. For S-J scoring, Brad Witt led with 22, Iverson added 18, Randy Witt 12, Weber 12 and Erickson 11. For the Wildcats, Elzenga had 22, Boeck 16 and Curt Mischke added 12.
The S-J Chiefs and the Big Blue fans would go on later in the year to win the conference, District 7, and go on a great run to the state tournament. A year later, and a year older, Westbrook added Mike Weiske to the starting lineup, and went undefeated during the regular season -- losing only to Chisholm in overtime in the state semis on the way to a third-place finish in the state.
The early 80s are remembered fondly as a special time for a great competitive rivalry, which produced many memorable S-J/Westbrook games.