Vikings learn that duplicating national ranking is no easy feat
One banner stood out among the numerous state and league championship ornaments surrounding the gymnasium.
But the cloth commemorating the 1991-92 South Tahoe High basketball team’s No. 19 national ranking still had a life of its own. It’s purpose wasn’t solely to bring about fond memories. On this night, the banner served as inspiration as the present Vikings were about to tip off with Dominguez, the No. 3 team in the country, in the Vikings Rotary Classic.
By upsetting the NCAA Division I prospect-laden Los Angeles squad, the Vikings surely could vault into the rankings for the first time in five years.
For a school barely eclipsing an enrollment of 1,000 students, dreams of winning a district title are lofty enough, but to be classified among the top 20 teams in the country is unthinkable. But miraculously it happened, and now every basketball player who represents South Tahoe strives to duplicate or better that amazing accomplishment.
“In order to be the best, you’ve got to play the best, and you also need to know how good you are,” said Viking coach Tom Orlich, who has an open invitation to any qualified California high school to compete in the annual Viking Rotary Classic. “This was a good measuring stick for us.”
But after competitive optimism was displaced by reality, South Tahoe realized the magnitude of their task on Saturday.
“I’m a firm believer that you can beat anybody in the country if you have the right plan. There are plans out there to beat people, you just have to execute them, and that’s what we told the team before the game,” said the 23-year Viking mentor.
Orlich, however, never used the possible national ranking as a carrot. Winning their own tournament was enough incentive.
“You never have to motivate a team for a championship game. When you’re in a championship game, the adrenaline is pumping and you want that trophy, and you’ll do whatever it takes,” Orlich said. “They read all the press clipping and they heard the buzz about town and around school about how great (Dominguez) was.”
Predictably, the Vikings elevated their play to the highest level, sneaking to a 20-13 lead late in the first quarter.
“At the end of the first quarter I think they really bought into (the game plan), because they knew these guys were beatable and if we stayed with the plan, we could beat them,” Orlich said.
But was it a lead built on adrenaline, and more importantly, would it last?
“I wasn’t totally worried, but it was something because we were down. You’re playing in their environment, they was playing with a lot of emotion and they was hitting all of their shots, so I was worried somewhat, but it was nothing serious,” said Dominguez coach Russell Otis.
As the coach of a perennial national powerhouse, Otis is all too familiar with the pressure a national ranking brings.
“I’m happy we’re not No. 1,” Otis said. “Last year, we was rated No. 1 and had that big bull’s-eye. It brought a lot of good publicity to our school, but we’re in a position now where we can make a move. It doesn’t matter who’s No. 1 now, it matters who’s No. 1 at the end.”
Dominguez’s superior physical and athletic advantages eventually kicked in, and a 14-1 run at the end of the first quarter and into the second period buried South Tahoe’s dream of returning to national prominence.
An hour after the Vikings’ respectful 66-54 defeat, Orlich was too encouraged by his team’s future to dwell on the loss.
“I’m proud of their effort. I know they wanted to annihilate us, and that’s fine … everybody does,” Orlich said. “But we don’t want respect. I’ve been here too long, we’ve accomplished too much and we’ve had too many great kids come through this program to go out in one game and try and prove it. We don’t need to prove anything.”
While the Vikings temporarily retreat back into their Northern Nevada League schedule this week, the Dons have an upcoming schedule similar to a college power – trips to Delaware and Florida.
“It’s a part of basketball. I like it, and I’m pretty sure everybody is looking forward to the challenge. Everybody knows it’s just starting, so everybody has to keep playing the way they are right now,” said Dominguez 6-8 guard Tayshaun Prince.
In his final assessments, Otis complimented the Vikings and simultaneously gave them some inspiration.
“They really understand their roles and their limitations. I think this is the most disciplined out of all of their teams, but by far I don’t think it is the best South Tahoe team we’ve played,” said Otis, whose Dons have won the Viking Rotary Classic in all four appearances (1992, 1993, 1994 and 1997).
Wonder what Otis would have said if the Vikings had won. Certainly USA Today Super 25 poll creator Dave Krider would have taken notice and added another gem to the Vikings’ well-decorated gymnasium walls.
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