Caledonia's Eli King

Caledonia's Eli King takes a shot over Byron's Carter Wilde in the first half. The Warriors beat Byron 65-45 in their first game of the season on Friday.

CALEDONIA — It’s become a tradition of sorts at Caledonia High School.

The football team has its bleached-blonde mohawks when the MSHSL playoffs begin, and the wins keep coming. But the tradition that showed itself early in the boys basketball team’s debut Friday night at Caledonia is one consequence of the football program’s historic success.

The Warriors toppled Byron 65-45 on the strength of a second-half surge of points and forced turnovers in front of an estimated crowd of 500 people. But the tradition that was maintained was a fast turnaround between the end of the state championship football game and the first basketball game.

Nearly all of the Warriors — 13 of the 16, to be exact — on the varsity basketball roster hoisted the school’s fourth consecutive Class AA football championship trophy at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis six days ago, and then were on the court with the Warriors on Friday.

“It was tough. A lot of guys were a little tired tonight,” junior Noah King said. King was the football team’s quarterback and is a powerful guard for the basketball team. He was critical to the win Friday, scoring 27 points on a night in which the Warriors were ice cold shooting.

Caledonia (1-0), which has played in the state basketball tournament two of the past three seasons, shot 2-for-23 from the 3-point line even with a good number of those coming from open shooters.

The Warriors also missed a pair of breakaway chances — the first a dunk try off a steal from Noah King, and the second a layup that missed after Eli King’s behind-the-back pass on a two-on-one break was a bit off target.

They had the most success with straight-line drives from Noah King, but even those chances weren’t converting at their usual rate.

“I knew that the shots weren’t falling, so I tried to get to the rim. A lot of our guys did that,” Noah King said.

The teams combined for four points over the final 3 minutes of the opening half. Byron tied the score at 20 on a reverse layup with 45 seconds left, and its half-court heave at the buzzer hit the top of the backboard.

But in the second half, Noah King ignited the offense with a pair of three-point plays in the first few minutes before he started dumping the ball off to open teammates after getting into the lane.

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“As Noah’s teammates, we know teams are going to try to lock him and Eli down, so that makes our job a lot easier. We just get underneath the basket, and he’ll find us,” said senior guard Casey Storlie, who matched sophomore Casey Schulz with nine points.

While the shooting touch wasn’t quite there, Caledonia made up for it on the defensive end, forcing turnovers and rebounding well in the second half. Eli King had a breakaway dunk with about 5 minutes remaining that drew a loud cheer from the crowd and effectively sealed the game.

“He’s been saying he wants to get a bunch (of dunks) this year,” said Noah, Eli’s older brother. “That was pretty awesome.”

Storlie is one of the three basketball players not on the football team, but he was a major factor in the baseball team’s run to the state tournament last spring. He said he’s become accustomed to having a short time to practice as a full team — some football-playing Warriors didn’t practice until Wednesday — before games begin.

“They’ve been doing it all their lives, so they’re used to it,” Storlie said. “We’re an athletic bunch, not quite as talented as last year, but we’ll get it going.”

Noah King, whose father Brad is the basketball coach and an assistant football coach, said basketball is his favorite sport and he finds time during the football season to get shots up. But he knows that the first few weeks of transitioning to basketball can be a grind for the team as a whole.

“Most of us upperclassmen and Eli from the football team, didn’t get to work out all that much,” he said. “I think everybody just took a little bit to get back in the groove.”

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Colten Bartholomew can be reached at Colten.Bartholomew@lee.net or via Twitter @cbartdizzle.



Colten Bartholomew is a reporter and columnist for River Valley Media Group. Colten is the college sports coordinator for the La Crosse Tribune.