Whittell seniors go out on top with Div. IV State basketball championship
As the final buzzer sounded in the Div. IV State championship Saturday, Feb. 27, the Whittell boys basketball poured onto the court at Lawlor Events Center in frenzied celebration. By beating Word of Life Christian, the Warriors delivered a second state title in three seasons.
For Whittell, the victory meant accomplishing its primary goal set before the 2015-16 season. For Warriors’ seniors Palmer Chaplin, Colin Buchholz, Quinn Kixmiller, Andy Delgado and Aubrey Felton, it doubled as a perfect ending to their high school careers.
“We’ve been wanting this ever since before eighth grade, been working for it and been part of the team — it’s a great way to cap it all off,” Kixmiller said. “It’s a feeling incomparable to anything else in the world.”
Chaplin said the key to Saturday’s 53-48 victory was the Warriors trusting each other on the court playing “Whittell basketball.” When Phil Bryant took over the Whittell boys basketball program four years ago, that phrase would not have been associated with a championship team.
“You can’t even put it into words,” Bryant said. “These kids buy into what we do and how we do it, and this was a goal from the beginning.”
In four seasons under Bryant, the senior quartet of Chaplin, Buchholz, Kixmiller and Delgado have been a part of teams that won two state championships, a regional title, three league crowns and combined for a 90-22 record — including a 77-10 mark over the past three years.
“Winning is the ultimate goal, and the memories we’ve formed along the way is what makes it special,” Chaplin said. “I wouldn’t pick any other team over us — I’d pick these guys every single day of the week.”
Chaplin, Buchholz, Kixmiller and Delgado have taken the court as teammates as far back as seventh grade. Those four have ultimately left their mark on the most successful era of Whittell boys basketball — and punctuated a highly-successful four-year stretch by winning their final game
“It’s one of the greatest ways to go out,” Buchholz said. “Finishing it out with those five seniors, winning the title, and being able to say we’re the best is great — we just have to take it in.”
Whittell’s senior core won a state championship as sophomores in 2014 at Lawlor before falling in the state semifinals as juniors last season in Las Vegas. Their taste of ultimate success and bitter disappointment added meaning to returning to the top of the state.
“It’s kind of like reliving the moment from sophomore year, but we’re more mature and I’ll remember this one more,” Buchholz said. “Being with these guys is amazing. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
While the seniors celebrated the Warriors’ second state title in three seasons, the finality their time on the hardwood for Whittell season set in. Along with that came an instant sense of nostalgia.
“It’s kind of bittersweet to an extent, because that’s the last time we’ll put on a Whittell jersey and it’s the last time we’ll play for coach Bryant,” Chaplin said when asked about the feeling of winning it all.
The ending of the season would always be slightly bittersweet for Whittell’s seniors. But they made sure to end it with the sweetest possible outcome.
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