BUFFALO – The Guernsey-Sunrise Vikings came into the Wyoming regional 1A boys basketball tournament as a NO. 2 seed and hopes high of making it back to the state tournament.
After three grueling games, the boys boarded the school bus and found the same closed and snow covered roads that they encountered on Tuesday night. In fact, the bus just barely made it out of Guernsey and on to the roads before they began closing behind them.
The first game was set for Thursday night at 7 p.m. and the team they were facing was Kaycee, a team that they had upset two years ago in route to the state tournament. This year the shoe was on the other foot and Kaycee exacted their revenge.
The Vikings came out sluggish and could not seem to get a tempo going or a basket to fall. At the first quarter break it was 5-11 in favor of the Buckaroos. The lead grew to 11 by the half and into the locker room the score stood at 23-12. The Vikings had a slight advantage in the third, but only cut the margin to 10 points. When it was all said and done, Kaycee walked away with a 45-31 victory.
For the game, Caleb “Tree” Christensen had a monster game recording a double-double with 12 points and 16 rebounds. The team’s leading scorer for the regular season, Tristan Hohnholt had 12 points and had four steals. Aidan Noggle recorded three points and five rebounds and Jacob Roper had 2 points and five rebounds. Dawson Bingham had three points and four rebounds. The Vikings missed 10 free throws which could have made a big difference down the stretch.
The Vikings knew that their backs were to the wall going into the next game against Rock River. You have to win two games to get to the state tournament.
With a renewed energy the Vikings took care of business with a 50-20 victory, excelling both on offense and defense. Leading scorer for the Vikings was Hohnholt with 18 points and four assists, Roper had a big game recording a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Christensen had nine points and nine rebounds and blocked three shots. Noggle ended up with nine points and three assists. Both Bingham and Mason Collar each had two points. Collar also had five rebounds and three assists.
The Saturday game would be against the other No. 2 seed, Hulett who had beaten them in January by a slim two-point margin, so all who had seen the first game knew it would be a dogfight. It lived up to its billing as the teams battled back and fourth with Hulett taking the first quarter and Guernsey-Sunrise taking the second quarter and a slim one-point lead into the locker room, 19-18. With 28 seconds left in the third quarter lost the lead for the first time in the half and went down 35-36 at the quarter.
The Vikings captured one more lead at 37-36, but with six minutes left in the game Hulett went ahead 38-37 and never let go. The Vikings went into a four-minute valley where they could not score, they had the ball stolen four times and they were getting beat for the first time in the tournament on the boards. Frustration set in and with two minutes left after a Hulet 9-0 run, Noggle hit the last of his six 3-point baskets and the Devils eeked it out in spite of missing 10 free throws in the last six minutes. Roper came alive on the boards and scored the last four points of his career, but it was too little, too late.
Noggle had a huge game hitting six 3-point shots and ending up with 20 points. Hohnholt who hit four 3-point shots through the third quarter, but Hulett started face guarding him and he ended up with 12 points and four assists. Bingham didn’t score but had four rebounds and four assists, Christensen ended up with eight points and seven rebounds, Roper had four points and nine rebounds.
The Vikings finish the season at 9-10.
“Overall - I want to thank Troy Reichert, Jolyn Hillen and our administration for the support they have given to the basketball program and our athletes,” first-year head coach Steve Zimmerman said. “Our athletes were the most respectful athletes that I've had the privilege to work with. I felt that at as the year progressed both the Junior Varsity and Varsity grew in their skills and basketball knowledge. We focused heavily on basic skills in the areas of shooting, passing and footwork The players worked hard to make these skills instinctual. Court sense was a second area that we worked hard in. The lack of experience in our younger kids was a huge issue causing the need for court sense to be a focus point. The third area and probably the most important area that the team worked on and whole heartedly embraced was what we called "Family". This was ownership and responsibility to all others in the program for their actions and their roles on the team. We moved from looking for a hero to doing my part to make a team. I felt all this started coming together through February and into regionals.”
Zimmerman is no stranger to the playoffs and he has guided many teams to the post season and even to a few state championship games.
“We heard over and over from other teams, coaches, and officials how impressive our defense was,” Zimmerman said. “There were many blow outs in the tournament but our defense kept us in all three games. Our Achilles’ heel in the first game was cold shooting. Our defense held us in it till the last quarter. Our second game against RR was dominated by our defense allowing the Vikings to secure playing time for the bench providing valuable experience. The third game was hard fought and close until the cold shooting hit the Vikings with 6:00 minutes to go. We could not overcome that cold spell.”
Although the Vikings are losing both their big men to graduation this year, Zimmerman is positive looking to the future.
“Though we made progress throughout the season there is still a lot of work we need to do,” Zimmerman said. “The coaches are now working on player evaluations and building 3 to 4 skill goals for the summer. It is important that time and effort show up in the weight room this summer. Strength training and agility work will benefit all the players. The Vikings next year will not have the luxury of size which will have to be made up through speed and strength. If we do not put the offseason work in it will be hard to compete. The boys understand what is needed to continue to improve and have made verbal commitments to do so. I look forward to seeing how they develop between now and next season. This was a fantastic year being a Viking.”