Grizzlies supplant Vikings as area power |

Grizzlies supplant Vikings as area power

Column by Steve Yingling

Credit Tom Maurer’s kids and their unusual names. Ever since the Galena High boys basketball coach started his own home lineup of hoopsters with children Trey Utah-Moe, 3, and Ty Basketball Jones, 1, his Grizzlies have become the new kings of prep basketball in Northern Nevada.

What has been South Tahoe High’s domain for the past decade and a half has been thrust away by a group of overachievers from Reno.

With three NCAA Division I-caliber players leading the way, Galena’s 1997 and 1998 zone championships over the Vikings came as no surprise. But Galena’s third successive championship – a methodical 54-48 victory over multitalented Reed on Saturday night in Carson City – demonstrated that the program has staying power at the top.

Losing four starters and their sixth man from their 1998 championship squad only made the Grizzlies work harder during the off-season. Their devotion to become the best players possible wasn’t lost on Maurer, who declined to take any of the credit for the school’s unexpected three-peat.

“I pinch myself every day knowing what we were and where we are right now,” Maurer said. “All the tributes should go out to our 14 kids, who have been playing day in and day out and have been screamed and yelled at over and over.

“I remember in the fall, them working out in 35-40 mph winds on different skills, busting their butts. It’s a neat situation. It’s like a Hoosier story.”

After finishing in a third-place state tie with South Tahoe last winter, Maurer heard the off-season whispers that his Grizzlies wouldn’t even qualify for the zone tournament.

Luckily, Maurer welcomed back the league’s most talented player – 5-foot-8 point guard Lance Buoncristiani – to bring along an inexperienced team.

“I used to think someone 5-8 couldn’t make that much of a difference. But Lance made all the other players a lot better, forcing kids to catch balls and to finish their shots,” Maurer said.

To add to their first-place heavy trophy case off of Mount Rose Highway, the Grizzlies focused on what they had, not what they didn’t. When two sophomore lettermen didn’t return for their junior seasons, Maurer and his three assistants (Adrien Buoncristiani, Tom Brown and Chris Madesen) only worked harder.

“Like Tom Orlich’s approach with losing Travis (McCollum), why worry about spilled milk. We weren’t saying, ‘What if?’ The bottom line is we did not have them, so I have to worry about the kids on the court that I’m working with every day,” Maurer said. “Tom Maurer didn’t do this. I have three great coaches and two of them could just of easily coached this team.”

Although their playing time was limited a year ago, Galena’s overachievers made a quick transition to varsity starters because of the schooling they received from Buoncristiani, Brian Vaka and Siebrandt the previous year.

“I always told the kids who weren’t playing, that those juniors and seniors you’re going against are D1 players. Then when next year comes around, you’ll know the system,” Maurer said.

Viking fans should recognize the similarities between the two programs. In years where Orlich lacked gifted players, his teams won with patience, smarts, defense and year-round work.

Galena routinely controls a game’s tempo and rarely allows a team to go off offensively.

“We’re not a great team. We’re an average high school team that fulfills its roles,” Maurer said. “I feel real good about what our kids are doing. We don’t have an overly talented team, but so far we’ve done OK passing the ball, catching the ball, blocking out and playing tough defense.”

Maurer will see how his “Viking prototype” stacks up against Las Vegas’ fourth-best talent, Cimarron-Memorial, in the state quarterfinals Wednesday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. Since the quarterfinal begins at 3:20 p.m., Maurer should bring along his lucky charms – his boys.

Galena’s string of three zone titles isn’t unprecedented Local fans shouldn’t need more than a few seconds to determine the last time a school accomplished such a feat.

Of course, it was the Vikings (1991-93).

A tougher one might be pinpointing the last time South Tahoe entered state as the fourth seed. That was in 1995 following losses to Reno and Reed.

Instead of sulking in self-pity over the weekend following their rare consecutive zone defeats, some Vikings sought out a way to strike back.

That’s right, most of the juniors on the squad went bowling Sunday night at Tahoe Bowl.

“We wanted to loosen some things up and have a good time before we started again for state,” said forward Tim Sprinkles, who was joined by fellow juniors John Giannoni III, Travis McCollum, Andy Butcher and Casey Kaczmareck.

“It’s like we have hit the biggest rut of the season at the worst possible time. We need to put this in the past. If we can do that, we can play some good basketball like we were doing early in the season. If we dwell on the losses, it’s going to be pretty hard to win,” Sprinkles said.

The Vikings can earn a postseason spare by upsetting top-seeded Cheyenne on Wednesday.

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