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North may have chance this year

Michael Traum

The 1997 NIAA/U.S. Bank Nevada State AAAA Basketball Championships begin today in Reno.

Once again, eight of the top teams from Northern and Southern Nevada will compete for arguably the most prestigious title in prep sports. A year’s worth of workouts, preparation and competition comes down to one weekend of action; to which group of young men can string together three wins and achieve the ultimate payoff.

This year, the South again boasts a quartet of talented squads. Durango, Bishop Gorman, Valley and Las Vegas have each beaten the other at least once during the season while compiling 20-plus wins. Although smaller than last year, the teams are as quick and athletic as ever.

In the North, three of the four entrants, South Tahoe, Sparks and Galena, are emerging as legitimate threats to the South’s four straight and 18- of-the-last 20 title wins. Only South Tahoe in 1987 and 1992 has broken the streak.

Many observers, including the Southern coaches, are calling this year’s tournament the most wide open race in recent memory. “It’s all extremely close. There’s not a clear-cut favorite,” said Valley coach Paul Aznarez.

But Tahoe coach Tom Orlich probably best described the North’s situation for this year.

“You can’t say anything about the South until you go out and do something about it,” he said.

The 1997 boys basketball AAAA state competitors:

South Tahoe High (18-11), Division 1 third place, No. 2 seed zone, first-round opponent Gorman 4:30 p.m. at Reno High – The Vikings come off a season of adversity, having not won a zone or division title for the first time in 11 years. But the always potent Vikes expect to bring their “A” game to a 15th straight state appearance. “It’s all a matter of believing in ourselves and being confident. If all the guys do that, we can beat anyone,” said senior co-captain Nick Romagnolo.

Alan Case leads Tahoe in scoring, with Romagnolo, Doug Wilson, Greg Bruso and Casey Dowling sharing the point production. Rebounding will once again play a big role, an area that Dowling has stepped up in as of late. “I’ve put more emphasis on it. It’s like taking two points away from the opponent and giving us a possible four-point turnaround.”

Added Orlich, “Boards have really hurt us. But we’re a resilient group. All we think about is focusing on the opponent and getting a win. Our kids have got to step up and play big.”

Sparks High (24-5), Division 1 first place, No. 3 seed zone, first-round opponent Durango 4:30 p.m. at Reed High – The Railroaders are very athletic and bring experience. Having lost in the first round last year, Sparks knows what it’s going to take.

“We feel like we can defend fairly well. And we won’t do anything too different,” said Sparks coach Dick Lee. “The South’s strength is going to the boards well and its quickness. Those have been our strengths this year.”

Josh Devine attacks a defenses’ middle and can fill it up from three-point land, while La’Marr Speights is a more-than-capable back court threat. Monte Johnson, Gordon Koski and Paul Moss round out five returning starters and are among eight seniors on the team.

Galena High (22-6), Division 1 second place, No. 1 seed zone, first-round opponent Las Vegas 6:30 p.m. Lawlor Events Center – The Grizzlies, in just their fifth year, could be viewed as a surprise team. But not to coach Tom Maurer. “Since day one at Galena, it’s been all hard work. Finally the other North teams (because of South Tahoe’s example) are getting their acts together. We’re pushing these kids to do great things,” he said.

The Grizzlies, ranked the state’s No. 2 in a Las Vegas newspaper, have the weapons to do some damage. Sophomore Lance Buoncristiani runs the point with uncanny poise, while Brian Vaka can do it all from anywhere on the floor. Maurer said the big difference will rest on Matt Siebrandt, a 6’7″ junior who will be one of the biggest guys in the tournament. “He’s going to have to have some awesome games. He’s huge for us,” he said.

McQueen High (13-14), Division 1 fourth place, No. 4 seed zone, first-round opponent Valley 3:20 p.m. Lawlor Events Center – The Lancers came to life in the zone tourney, downing Div. II champ Douglas. McQueen is a contender on physicality alone: many of the players were on the state runner-up football team.

“We’ve getting better as the season goes along. If we play good basketball, we’ll be as good as anybody in February. We have to rise to the next level,” said coach Nick Brockovitch recently.

Guards Ronnie Cansler and Casey McCann can carry the scoring load, with 6-6 Adam Henderson collecting boards.

Durango High (21-11), Sunset Division second place, No. 2 seed zone, first-round opponent Sparks 4:30 p.m. Reed High – The two-time defending champion Trailblazers see no reason why a dynasty couldn’t begin to develop. Despite losing some height, Durango coach Alan LaRocque likes his chances.

“We’re a little worried. We understand Sparks has one of the better teams,” said the coach, who admitted to not having seen any game tapes of Sparks. “But we have nine seniors. The kids know what’s expected of them.”

Durango, which goes only seven deep, will slow it down more than usual, according to LaRocque.

“We’re more susceptible to quickness than anything. We don’t have a lot of size. So if our front line comes to play, we can be tough,” he said.

The flu bug is making the rounds on the squad, currently inflicting starters Deldre Carr, Thomas McKyer and Tyler Kidd, although they’re expected to play.

Valley High (22-6), Sunset Division second place, No. 1 seed zone, first-round opponent McQueen 3:20 p.m. Lawlor Events Center – The Vikings are considered the smallest yet most athletic team in the tournament. Coach Paul Aznarez said don’t take his squad’s warmup routine as a sign of things to come.

“We’re not much to look at. When you see us run out, you’ll say, ‘OK, now bring on the varsity,'” Aznarez said. “We’re a slash-and-cut team. People say we’re dangerous. I guess we’re a little more than that.”

With post players standing just 6-1 and 6-2, look for point guard LaRonte Johnson, who led the state in football rushing yards, to be a quick and capable leader. Aznarez also said don’t overlook 6-1 center Alex Hernandez, who leads the team with 17 points per game.

Gorman High (26-7), Sunrise Division first place, No. 3 seed zone, first-round opponent South Tahoe 4:30 p.m. Reno High – The Gaels are 2-0 vs. Tahoe in tournament play. But coach Jeff Wagonseller knows what the Vikes bring to the fight.

“They’re a slow-down team with a very methodical offense – even more than usual,” he said. “And we like to push the ball, even more than usual. We lack height so we rely on our guards and a half-court trap. And we let the kids freelance.”

Gorman has a formidable starting group. Kendall Soares, leading scorer and rebounder with 16 and 11, Mo Terry, Shane Christiansen and Jason Van Meetren are all guards who average double-figure scoring. Darrell Ewell adds a 6-2 “wide body.”

“We need to get ahead early and don’t let Tahoe do what it does best. We need to be aware of their run and jump on defense and take the Tahoe fans out of it,” Wagonseller said.

Las Vegas High (24-7), Sunrise first place, No. 4 seed zone, first-round opponent Galena 6:30 p.m. Lawlor Events Center – The Wildcats had what coach Tom Farnsworth labeled a “pretty good year, but we were rocky at zone.” In fact, the team enters the weekend with back-to-back losses.

“It means a tougher first game. From what I’ve heard, Galena is a team to be reckoned with,” said Farnsworth, who hasn’t seen any film of the Grizzlies. “We’re pretty athletic and just have to adjust to what they do. We’ve been telling our guys that if they don’t respect the other team, then we’ll lose and go home in the morning.”

Lucas LeCour and Corey Kauffman are the Wildcat’s main men, with 17 and 19.5 points a game, respectively. Mario Finley, Robbie Cole, Greg Rogers and Ronny Jones are among those who return from last year’s tournament team.


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