Whittell boys basketball seeks second state title in three seasons, faces Adelson in Div. IV semifinals
Div. IV State Tournament
Friday, Feb. 26, at Reed High
(1N) Whittell (25-2) vs. (2S) Adelson (12-9), 3 p.m.
(1S) Word of Life Christian (17-3) vs. (2N) Mineral County (17-10), 6:20 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 27, 4:30 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center
The Whittell boys basketball team has established itself as a small-school power in just four seasons under head coach Phil Bryant. And for the third straight year, the Warriors are one of four teams left with a chance to play for the Div. IV State championship.
“You always hear about dynasties and eras,” senior point guard Palmer Chaplin said. “When you look back at it, this was a mini one.
“The fact that we’ve been able to be a contender year in and year out shows the program we’re building here. It means a lot.”
For the Warriors’ senior group that features Chaplin, Colin Buchholz, Quinn Kixmiller, Andy Delgado and Aubrey Felton, the perfect ending to the 2015-16 season — and their high school careers — would be the state championship. And that isn’t lost on the team.
“It would be the Hollywood ending, but at the same time we can’t look too far ahead,” Chaplin said. “We’re looking ahead knowing that we want the state championship, but the first thing we have to do is focus on Friday.”
North top seed Whittell (25-2) faces South second seed Adelson School (Las Vegas) (12-9) in the state semifinals Friday, Feb. 19, at Reed High in Sparks — tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. After winning the regional championship, the Warriors sit two wins away from their second state title in three seasons.
“We want to end it with a banner on the wall,” Kixmiller said. “Putting this cap on it would be a nice way to end the season. We got league and zone, there’s only one thing left that we want — and we’re going for it.”
When the Warriors take the court Friday, they expect to face a Whittell-like opponent in Adelson. The Lions have a quick point guard similar to Chaplin, a wing shooter like Buchholz and a physical presence inside reminiscent of Kixmiller. They also switch between 2-2-1 and 1-2-2 full-court presses, trap in the half court and like to run out in transition.
“It’s basically playing ourselves,” Buchholz said. “We’re not looking past Adelson. If we don’t beat them, nothing else matters.”
“It’s like a mirror,” Chaplin added.
South top seed Word of Life Christian Academy (Las Vegas) (17-3) and North second seed Mineral County (17-10) meet in Friday’s second semifinal at 6:20 p.m. The Div. IV State championship will be held at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at Lawlor Events Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
“The success that they’ve had has been tremendous and I know they’d love to (win state),” Bryant said. “It was a goal at the beginning of the season, but we appreciate the year even if we don’t get there. There are so many good things to look at.”
Whittell is hoping its third straight state appearance feels more like the first time in 2014, when the Warriors delivered the school’s first basketball state championship by beating Virginia City at Lawlor. Last season in Las Vegas, Whittell fell short of defending its crown with a loss in the state semifinals.
“We went into the state tournament thinking we were going to walk out with another state championship, but we got knocked off,” Buchholz said. “It knocked us off our high horse.”
The Warriors have had consistent production from its senior trio all season long, led by the Cal Lutheran-bound Chaplin’s 21.8 points and 7.8 assists per game. Buchholz is second on the team in scoring (13.7) and Kixmiller is averaging a double-double of 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
“With these games getting tougher and tougher, we’re hitting our peak,” Buchholz said. “We’re peaking at the right time as a team.”
In the Div. IV Northern Region tournament, Whittell needed more than its top three scorers to dispatch a pair of league foes en route to the regional title. The bench production of sophomore Caleb Moretti and stifling defense of sophomore Corey Huber fueled the Warriors in wins over Pyramid Lake and Mineral County.
“The depth of our bench this year is what separates us,” Chaplin said. “We have each part — interchangeable puzzle pieces — and it doesn’t really matter who starts.”
Whittell enters the state tournament riding a 23-game winning streak. The Warriors have won 80 percent of their games in four seasons under Bryant and have a combined 75-10 record over the last three years. A second state banner on the wall is what the team ultimately wants, but its not needed for validation of the program’s revival.
“To be able to be here with the kids that are here and have the results that we’ve had, it’s really been a rewarding experience,” Bryant said. “In recent years they hadn’t had a ton of success. It was really rewarding to come in and be successful.”
Still, the Warriors plan to do all they can this weekend to return to the top of the state.
“We just have to stay true to ourselves, stay true to Whittell basketball and do what we do,” Chaplin said.