Will the North ever rise again?
The chants of Ta-hoe … Ta-hoe … Ta-hoe … Ta-hoe still ring in my ears from that unforgettable championship run the Vikings made in the 1992 state basketball tournament at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
It began with a 71-47 dusting of Eldorado – has a Southern ever been so soundly beaten by a Northern team? – as the Vikings’ lethal duo of Jerod Haase and Brian Bruso combined for a mere 22 points. It didn’t matter, though, as Len Costa and Robert Arana picked up the scoring slack with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Then came a 58-49 come-from-behind victory over Clark. Tahoe trailed the Ron Riley-led Chargers 22-18 at intermission, but an emotionally charged Haase scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half as the Vikings advanced to the finals for the second straight year. Riley went on to become a scoring machine at Arizona State.
What followed next was a classic – and perhaps the best – Nevada championship ever played. How often does a championship game go into overtime? This one did.
Booker T. Washington of Western sent the game into overtime with a late 3-pointer, and the Warriors appeared to have Tahoe beaten with a 66-64 edge with just over a minute to play. But Haase coolly buried a 3-pointer to put Tahoe ahead for good, 67-66. Haase fouled out in the final minute of overtime, but junior Austin Price sank three foul shots in the final 20 seconds to seal Tahoe’s 71-66 state title win in front of 7,000 appreciative spectators.
Those 30-1 Vikings finished with 23 straight wins and a No. 19 national ranking.
It’s a memory Northern Nevada high school fans don’t mind reliving. As a matter of fact, it’s the last time – and only the third occasion in the past 25 years – a team from the North won the title.
Las Vegas-area teams with their 3,000-plus enrollments and superior athleticism usually make a mockery of the quarterfinal round of the state tournament where each game matches a team from the South against one from the North.
The state quarterfinals have as much suspense as an old “Leave it to Beaver” rerun. Blowouts are the norm, and the only people who go home happy are the reserves.
The South’s repeated quarterfinal sweeps reduce semifinals and finals attendance and allow Las Vegas’ four best teams to showcase their zone tournament at home as well as in Reno.
Valley’s Gene Carpenter, who has coached in Las Vegas for the past 20 years, sympathizes with the North’s plight and has no answers for its coaches.
“Athleticism makes up a lot for X’s and O’s, and I don’t think I’d be any more successful if I was coaching up there,” he said. “You can’t substitute for athleticism and quickness. That’s why the South has dominated more than anything else.”
Some Northern team has to step forward this week to end this mockery. Maybe it will take Tom Orlich and his Vikings to return some pride to Northern Nevada basketball just as they did in 1992 and 1987.
“We might get swept again, and we might win one or two … you never know,” Orlich said after his team’s 52-43 zone championship win over Galena on Saturday night in Carson City. “It’s really unfair for me to make any type of opinion on it, because I haven’t seen one Vegas team. I’m just dealing in the past.”
If Carpenter was coaching a team from the North, he’d try to emulate Orlich’s full-court pressure.
“Down here there’s a lot of up-and-down-the-court transition, full-court pressure and full- and half-court traps,” Carpenter said. “What it does is it takes people out of what they’ve been practicing. If a teams throws something different at you, you don’t get to run your offense and you have to attack.
“Reading the floor and attacking basketball, I’m not so sure you see that in the North that often.”
While the past hasn’t been too kind to the North, the future doesn’t look any more forgiving. Starting next season, Southern Nevada will send five schools to the 4A tournament, the North three.
“If it’s the North against the South, you should have the top four teams from the North and the top four from the South,” Orlich said. “You’re almost making it an all-Southern tournament. In that respect, I’m against it.”
This might be the North’s last chance to win a state title, period. With Las Vegas growing at an alarming rate, who’s to say when the North’s state allotment might dwindle to two teams, or even one.
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