Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Warriors end season as a top-five team

 

March 13, 2018

DAILY NEWS/ Alex Kuhn

Warriors Ivan Perez (left) and McCoy Molzahn talk during a free throw in Worland's 61-56 victory over Lander in the 3A State tournament fifth-place game at Kelly Walsh High School Saturday afternoon.

CASPER - It is not how you start but how you finish and the Worland Warriors basketball team certainly proved that during this 2017-18 season. The journey began with plenty of ups and downs but when it mattered most the Warriors played their best basketball during the final two weeks of the season.

"We don't set preseason goals at the start of the season. Instead, we have the mindset of getting better each day. I thought that's what our guys did. If we had set preseason goals, they wouldn't have been as lofty as what we were able to achieve. Our mission statement is to be better each time we take the court and I felt we were able to do that all season long, through these last few weeks in tournament time I'm proud of the way the guys handled themselves," said WHS boys basketball coach Aaron Abel.

Bouncing back from a disappointing, near upset of No. 1-seeded Cody in the quarterfinals of the 3A State tournament in Casper, the Warriors defeated the Pinedale Wranglers 65-55 to advance to the fifth-place game. There they met they met future 3A Northwest rival the Lander Valley Tigers, downing them 61-56 to bring home the fifth-place trophy.

The Warriors were aggressive and composed throughout the game against the Tigers. Worland jumped out to a 19-11 lead at the end of the first quarter and expanded that lead to 28-16 midway through the second quarter.

However, the Tigers 3A's second-leading scorer Antonio Coando cut into the 12-point Warrior lead by going on a 9-2 run to close out the first half.

From then on it was a battle, the lead exchanged hands several times but in the end, the Warriors made the most plays. Whether that was reserve forward Bryan Viktorin scoring all four of his points in 17 seconds which gave Worland the lead for good in the third quarter; Luke Mortimer leading all scorers by tying a career high with 21 points; or Rudy Sanford closing out the game from the free-throw line.

"It was tough to get over the hump get those last couple of stops to finish them [Lander] off. They hit a few shots and got some offensive rebounds for putback and we couldn't quite finish it off. But I felt our guys were much more composed than they have been in those close games recently.

"We've been in so many close games that there should be a level of comfort. We didn't do anything differently, I just think our guys were better at coming to the ball and we made free throws. I was proud of Rudy, he made big shots from the foul line," said Abel.

Along with Mortimer, forward Andrew Edholm scored in double digits with 14 points and pulled down six rebounds.

As a whole, the Warriors are a mostly youthful team which leads to a potentially bright future but this season's success and fifth-place finish were due in part to seniors McCoy Molzahn, Ivan Perez and Jadon Swalstad.

The three seniors made sacrifices by accepting smaller or reduced roles that allowed for the younger Warrior players to gain valuable experience at the varsity level and ultimately led to the team's success.

"The seniors had a level of maturity that was beyond their years. That was really cool, that everything they've meant to us. I hope when we're hopefully competing for championships in the next few years that everybody remembers these seniors that graduated and remembers to thank them.

"We get a lot of guys that love to come back and talk to our kids and listen in and be a part of it. Stone [Ramos] and Isaias [Terrazas] couldn't get out of the kid's hotel rooms all this weekend and last weekend. There's a little feeling that they miss being a part of this. That's fun and what building a tradition is all about, and those three seniors are a big part of that tradition now," said Abel.

Added Perez about his Warrior basketball career, "It's hard to describe right now, all I can say is it was a great experience to play basketball with some great guys, group of friends and just having fun. It's been wild, a lot of good memories were made and I've enjoyed this ride I've had these four years. I've made a lot of friends and we've all been a part of this brotherhood."

The season did not end in a championship or another appearance in the championship game for the Warriors but the pride and determination the seniors took in continuing the Worland basketball tradition was evident in their play and words all season long.

"It's been awesome. These last two weeks we've beaten a lot of teams that nobody thought we had a chance against, Lander and Pinedale were two really good teams and we played our best games of the year and got the wins," said Molzahn.

Added Swalstad, "We came into this tournament as the underdogs and almost upset the No .1-seed. Anything is possible and these young guys have a lot of energy, they're small but they're scrappy and have a lot of heart. If they keep their heads, they're going to make it a long way ... Every year since I've been at Worland High School we've been a part of the state championship, until this year. But it's been great being a Warrior, this is a great program and I couldn't have asked to have a better high school career."

As for a message to the younger and future Warriors Perez's advice to them to continue the Warrior tradition was to lead and keep putting in the hard work. "Be a leader on the floor and the bench, play hard, don't give up on any plays and you'll be alright," he said.

NEXT SEASON

The Warriors bring back a large bulk of this season's team that will be led by Mortimer, the team's only All-Conference selection this season. In terms of starters, four of the five will be back for the Warriors with Edholm, Rylan Mocko, Mortimer and Sanford. As for the reserves Porter Harman, Devin Mercado, Jaden Mickelson, Viktorin and Wyatt Wyman return as well.

On paper, the Warriors look tough for the 2018-19 season but if this group is going to capitalize on their potential and reassert Worland in the championship mix, they will need to take full advantage of this offseason.

"We tell the guys during the season player development is about accentuating your strengths and playing into what you're good at. During the offseason that's when we try to build on those weaknesses and take what we're good at and make us great at it. That's how players can stand out and make themselves better individually. If we can get better individually our team will grow and get better.

"The bigger thing will be playing together. I hope we can accomplish that, we usually get anywhere from 20 to 30 games in the offseason. We'll enjoy what we've done through the spring; we'll take a step back and not do any basketball activities as the kids hopefully join the track team or soccer team and have a good spring season. Then we'll go into that first week of June," said Abel.

Next season the Warriors move from the 3A East into the 3A West and join the 3A Northwest division with Lander, Lovell and Powell. The new division and conference will test the Warriors but the positive is that come postseason time they should be familiar with high-pressure games.

"You see all these talented kids that Lander has coming back between Coando and [Niieihii] Black. That's going to be the first of many battles we'll have with them over the next few years and it's not going to get any easier for us. They have a great freshman and sophomore classes coming up.

"Powell is going to be good, they have a good freshman class that we played four games against and split with them. Lovell always has a lot of height to them and they're really well coached. I think the quadrant we're going to move into is going to be the best one in 3A and we'll be battled-test when we come out of it," said Able.

Added Abel about the benefits of the schedule, "I like the schedule too, we're not going to have any overnight trips and we're not going to get too far from home. I was sad that we didn't get games early this season but our kids only missed 17 class periods throughout the regular season and allowed us to focus on academics a bit, so there were a lot of bright spots to that too."

Due to sacrifices and the quick development of the young players the Worland Warrior basketball future is bright.

 
 

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