The Syracuse Jr. High basketball season has come to end following the High Plains League Tournament last Saturday.
And what a season it was.
It began when Head coach Jeff Mathias resigned from basketball due to his wife Tori’s health concerns.
“The kids love Jeff and respect him. So when choosing the design for the front of the shooting shirts, Brody, Jesmar, Freddy and Noah came to us and wanted the shirts to be pink and put “Team Mathias” on the front,” said Keller. “This was really neat that these eighth grade boys had maturity enough and thoughtfulness to do something like this,” said Assistant Coach Cameron Coleman.
Cameron recalls his team doing something similar when he was a senior. Jeff was the varsity head coach when Tori was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the half time shooting, the team unexpectedly went back to the locker room, leaving Jeff a little irritated, wondering where they went. They returned and Jeff started yelling, what are you doing? “I pulled at my shirt so he could read it, hit my chest and pointed at him and he lost it, it was one of the coolest experiences.”
And then COVID.
The boys and girls coaches all agree COVID has been their biggest challenge this year. Girls Head Coach Victoria Gonzalez said, “I don’t think I could name a bigger challenge than COVID, but I feel since we made it through COVID, we can make it through anything!” Assistant Coach Kayla Harkness said, “We did miss a couple of games due to quarantine and KSHSAA regulations but were fortunate as a team to keep going and continue to work on our game.”
Keller recalls after two and a half weeks of practice, the coaches and all the guys were quarantined missing the first five games when one of the players, his son, tested positive for COVID.
They appreciated Jordan Wahlmeier and Tregg Thomeczek, filling in while Keller was quarantined.
The season was filled with struggles and more practices than they could imagine without many games.
“It was hard to keep them focused with 49 practices and ten games,” said Keller.
The girls A team consisted of six players, finishing third defeating Sublette 17-16. Leading up to Saturday’s final round, they defeated Stanton County on Wednesday. “This was a big game because we lost to this team twice in the regular season,” said Gonzalez.
The next day, losing to Lakin, they knew the girls were exhausted from the day before, “Lakin was fast and it was too hard to keep up with them,” said Gonzalez.
The final round on Saturday against Sublette, was a strange game according to Gonzalez. “We were losing at half time 2-5 and I knew from the start this would be a defensive game!” She was glad their shots started to fall in the second half. “I always stressed to the players how important free throws are, and we finished the game playing the hardest defense of our lives to take the win,” she added.
The Girls B team also had six players. Coach Harkness said, “We had a bye in the first round so Thursday we faced Lakin who is a very tough team!” She knew they had to take care of the ball and break the press. “We took that challenge and handled ourselves very well, unfortunately, we did not come out on top because Lakin put us on the line early in the game but we were unable to capitalize on those free throws, missing 18, losing 23-32.”
The B girls faced Southwest Heights in the consolation bracket. Harkness felt they did a great job scoring early in the game, but in third quarter, SWH started to press and utilized their “big” girls inside. Harkness said, “We played tough defense with no fouls, getting some shots.” Gonzalez added, “We won in the last second with a three-point shot in the corner from Peyton Ochs!” Harkness said that was one of her most memorable moments.
Harkness said, “The most rewarding part of coaching junior high is their spirit and willingness to work hard and not question it, but they put their nose down and grind.”
Girls A Team vs Sublette
Thomeczek 2 3-4 7, Riley 2 2-7 6, Pena 0 1-2 4.
3 point goals – Pena 1.
Syracuse 2 0 7 8 – 17
Sublette 3 2 7 4 – 16
Kimber Thomeczek 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist.
Addy Riley 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 5 blocks.
Emily Pena 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal.
Magali Diaz 3 rebounds.
Kayda Garcia 2 rebounds, 1 steal.
Girls B Team SWH
Ochs 3 0-0 9, Berzoza 2 2-4 6, Montes 1 2-4 4, Alcantar 1 0-0 2, Worsley 1 0-0 2.
3 point goals – Ochs 1.
Syracuse 4 10 3 6 – 23
SWH 2 2 5 12 – 21
Peyton Ochs 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals.
Makayla Berzoza 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist.
Brisa Montes 4 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal.
Denise Alcantar 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 assists.
JaKenzee Worsley 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal.
Rebekah Lampe 2 rebounds.
One of their highlights leading up to the tournament was facing Johnson who was undefeated. “We were averaging 20 turnovers, but we had some talks, made some changes and beat Johnson, with only six turnovers!” said Keller.
In the opening round of the tournament on Wednesday, the A team boys defeated Southwestern Heights 46-21, B team boys also defeated SWH, 30-18.
Thursday, the A team faced Sublette, winning 35-32. Cam said,” The B team played the best they had all season, winning 46-21!”
Playing at home on Saturday, the A team lost to Lakin, 31-47 for the runner up HPL Champions.
The B team defeated Elkhart, 30-17 for the HPL Championship.
In the last few minutes of play in the second quarter, Coleman explained, Mason Scott hit a big three and then had a good pass to Alex Phillips, putting up five quick points to tie the game! With one minute go, Johnny Tevelde comes down and hits a three-point shot. Then with five seconds to go, Mason Scott dribbles down, sees Tevelde open on the wing, throws it and Tevelde hits one putting us up by 15-9! The third quarter was low scoring, but the fourth quarter, “The Bulldogs came out on fire!” said Coleman, winning 30-17.
Coleman and Keller both enjoyed the season and look forward to coaching together next year. They will, however, lose 17 eighth graders.
Boys A Team vs Lakin
Morales 4 2-2 10, Molina 2 0-0 7, A. Leyva 1 0-0 5, B. Leyva 2 0-0 4, Garcia 0 0-0 3, Vazquez 1 0-0 2.
3 point Goals – Garcia 1, A. Leyva 1, Molina 1.
Syracuse 4 12 8 7 – 31
Lakin 7 12 18 10 – 47
Jorge Morales 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal.
Jesmer Molina 7 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist.
Alvaro Leyva 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, 1 deflection.
Brayan Leyva 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist.
Noah Garcia 3 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 deflection.
Freddy Vazquez 2 points,2 steals, 1 block.
Brody Keller 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 charge drawn.
Julian Rosales 1 charge drawn.
Boys B Team VS Elkhart
Phillips 6 2-2 14, Scott 1 0-1 8, TeVelde 0 0-0 6, Guiterrez 1 0-0 2.
3 point goals – Scott 2, TeVelde 2.
Syracuse 4 11 2 13 – 30
Elkhart 6 3 6 2 – 17
Alex Phillips 14 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks.
Mason Scott 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist.
Johnny TeVelde 6 points, 1 rebound, 3 steals.
Felipe Guiterrez 2 points, 4 rebounds.
Brandon Thompson 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist.
Alan Barraza 2 rebouns, 2 steals.
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