In the first week of the 2017-18 season, the La Crescent High School boys basketball team has doubled their win total from last year.
The Lancers are off to a 2-0 start after topping Kingsland 60-53 in their home opener on Monday, and then beating Cotter 74-59 the following night. The winning start helps La Crescent officially put its 1-22 season last year behind them, as they begin the season with five games in eight days.
“We’ve been practicing real hard, and in the locker room before the game tonight I told them the journey starts today,” said coach Ryan Thibodeau after Monday night’s win. “But we all know it actually started a long time ago. We had a rough year last season, and we put that behind us. These kids work really hard, and they deserve to feel success like this.”
In the Kingsland game, the Knights came out strong and were hitting thee-pointers just about every other possession, and the Lancers found themselves in a familiar place. But La Crescent knocked on the door in the first half with a streak of big plays from Ben Nelson, and then came out flying in the second half to cut the lead to within a possession. Thibodeau called a timeout with around 10 minutes left in the second half, with his team down three.
“I just kind of told them to reset, because I know their energy level and emotions were high with it being the first game of the year,” said Thibodeau, who said he knew Kingsland wouldn’t be able to continue draining threes the way they had in the first half. “I just wanted them to relax, and realize there was a lot of game left to play, so if we relax, we’d be okay.”
A couple of possessions after the timeout, Sam Wieser hit a jumper to put the Lancers up one. With around five minutes left in the game, Romy Whitford grabbed his own rebound off a jump shot, and banked in a layup to put La Crescent up by six, its biggest lead of the game, which they never looked back from. The Lancers held the Knights to just 15 points in the second half.
“We can go seven, eight or nine deep,” said Thibodeau, who said he was pleased with how many guys stepped up in big positions on Monday night. “And we’ve got a couple guys on our bench that also could’ve played tonight.”
Thibodeau said he would like the Lancers to finish games on a better note, as they missed some shots around the basket and some late free throws in Monday’s game. Better teams will take advantage of opportunities like that, said Thibodeau, but he’s just happy La Crescent has already found its winning rhythm with its core group of players.
“Getting Ben (Nelson) back is huge,” said Thibodeau of his senior guard who missed a lot of last season with a broken foot, and scored 22 points Monday night. “Luke (Schwartzhoff) now having a full year of varsity experience is big, and it lets guys like Thomas (Kiesau), Bryce (Nolop) and Romy (Whitford) to be those complimentary type of players, and thrive in those spots.”
Thibodeau said the team had warmup shirts made with the words ‘prove them wrong’ inscribed on the back, because they knew this season would be about showing people they can compete with anyone.
“To anyone that doubts us or thinks we’ll be a pushover, we wanted to come out and say that no, we’re not,” said Thibodeau. “We have some real talented players, and I think last year was just one of those years where things just didn’t go right.”