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Vikings look like a legit contender

Steve Yingling

Seeing South Tahoe High wipe out a decisive third-quarter deficit against North Valleys last Friday confirmed that the Vikings are playoff contenders in boys’ basketball.

In past years, the Vikings would have folded.

Afterward, I thought about what is making this year’s team so different.

They have more of an inside presence with 6-foot-8 Joel Keegan. That’s obvious. Keegan and 6-5 Jared Wood are limiting teams to one shot and giving the Vikings second and third chances on the offensive end that the team hasn’t had in previous seasons.

In past seasons, the Vikings have lived and died by their three-point shooting. Now, the Vikings finally have an inside-outside game that is making them really difficult to defend.

But what has really grabbed my attention in games that I have watched in 2005-06 is the Vikings’ willingness to share the basketball.

The Vikings’ half-court sets force opponents to work for extended periods on defense and, as coaches will tell you, many players don’t have the dedication to stay focused on defense for long.

With Conor Freeman masterfully running the point, the Vikings executed their offense almost flawlessly in the second half and rebounded from the seven-point deficit for a 67-62 Sierra Division victory against the Panthers.

“This is the first group since I’ve been here that has been resilient enough to grind out wins and win at different tempos,” said STHS coach Derek Allister. “Last year, if we were running up and down and making shots, we were pretty good. But we never would have won this game.”

South Tahoe does have periods where it doesn’t play very good defense. The Vikings allow too many drives into the key and they struggle to provide help defense near the basket.

But offensively the Vikings are tough to defend. They have more than enough weapons and are adept at putting the ball in the hands of their scorers.

When Freeman began draining three-pointers in the second half against the Panthers, that made it easier to get Jared Wood and Keegan the ball in scoring position. If a few more of Wood’s tough-luck shots would have dropped, the Vikings would have won going away.

A home loss to sixth-place North Valleys could have been devastating, especially with Carson and Douglas breathing down the Vikings’ necks. STHS (3-1) owns a one-game lead over fourth-place Douglas and Carson, and the Vikings play both schools this weekend. Only the top four teams from the division will advance to the regional tournament.

These Vikings don’t look like they will crumble under pressure. With their senior leadership, unselfishness, solid bench and a strong desire to reach the postseason, the Vikings should return to the regional tournament for the first time in six years.

“They are starting to believe,” Allister said. “They are tough, we have some good players and we have some better players.”

It’s a long time coming for the likable Allister, who brought a NCAA Division I coaching background to the position in 2001. In fairness to Allister, the chemistry of previous teams was routinely disrupted by disciplinary issues. Allister has never hesitated to sit his best players if they are not fulfilling their roles on or off the court.

Some of those teams probably should have made the playoffs, especially the group led by Curtis Johnson. But Allister never made any excuses.

This year’s team isn’t requiring as much disciplining and the best players are on the court more often than fans have seen in the past.

With Hug and Reno gaining most of the early season fanfare, the Vikings are quietly putting together a season that supporters grew accustomed to with Tom Orlich in charge in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The only thing missing is a packed blue gym. These Vikings have earned it.

– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or syingling@tahoedailytribune.com


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