Shortly after West Hancock won its third-place game at the Class 1A state tournament last season, coach Brian Peterson, his assistants, their wives and some parents were sitting around reminiscing about the Eagles’ best finish in years. Even in the celebration, though, Peterson and his fellow coaches were already thinking about next season.
“We talked about it that night about how do we get back?” Peterson said.
The Eagles had seniors Dylan Eckels, Seth Weiland and Ben Eisenman back but many question marks after that. Almost one year later, while those three certainly helped, it was the rest of the team that got this West Hancock team back to its third state tournament appearance in three years. The Eagles meet Grand View Christian Monday at 3:45 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena.
“We are back at the state tournament not only because of those three guys, but because everyone else has bought into their roles, they understand their roles and they accept it,” Peterson said.
Down the stretch the Eagles had guys like Chase Eisenman, MaCoy Yeakel, Gavin Becker, Glen Smith or Garrett Fosdick hit a big shot or two or grab a rebound in a crucial spot. It’s those guys who have given this team the legs to get back.
Of course, what Eckels, Weiland and Ben Eisenman did throughout the season can’t be overlooked.
Eckels was the team’s leading scorer and go-to guy when they needed a basket.
Weiland provided the Eagles a shot-blocking force on defense, a rebounding machine and a guy who could knock down a 3-pointer. In the three tournament games, Peterson said he was impressed with how Weiland used his size more around the rim on offense and that he was “the difference maker.”
Finally, Eisenman has been clutch in the past few games in sealing victories with his free-throw shooting.
“I just think these kids play very well together and they wanted to prove everyone wrong,” Peterson said. “No one gave us a chance at the beginning of the season.”
The Eagles (19-6), who come into state as the No. 7 seed, might have their hands full with second-seeded Grand View Christian (24-1) on Monday.
Since a season-opening loss to Pella, which is a member of the 3A state tournament field, the Thunder have rolled off 24 straight wins. They lead the state, regardless of class, with 88.3 points per game.
Grand View Christian has four players who average 12 points or more per game with Grant DeMeulenaere leading the way at 19.7 and Stephen Glen is at 16.1. The two have combined for 112 3-pointers but both are capable of driving to the rim as well.
On defense, the Thunder like to use full-court pressure and trap in the half court. Peterson said figuring out the defense is their defense is another top priority.
“They’re handsy and they like to reach,” the coach said. “We’re going to have to be strong with the ball especially if they let that stuff go.
“We need to be organized versus their pressure, and if we can do that, we’ll be able to hang in there.”