Sierra Lutheran hopes hot play translates to state tourney berth
There must be something about league play and the final stretch of the regular season for the Sierra Lutheran boys basketball team, which is yet again putting together an impressive win streak as the regular season comes to a close.
As of Friday afternoon, the Falcons had won eight of their last nine contests and sat with a 5-0 mark in the Class 1A West League – a two-win advantage over second place Virginia City and Sage Ridge.
The fiery finishes to the season aren’t a new feature under fourth-year head coach Ben Walther.
Two years ago, the Falcons won nine of their final 11 games before getting bounced in the opening round of the postseason.
Last year, Sierra Lutheran tallied 12 wins in its final 13 games before a 60-39 loss to Wells left the Falcons one game away from qualifying for the state tournament.
This season has proved to be no different despite a slower start in the season’s early going.
Finding their niche
Walther is quick to deflect credit toward his players, but Sierra Lutheran has found its success with new pieces every season.
In all three seasons, the Falcons have been led by juniors and seniors, who have all been able to find the bottom of the hoop when need be.
Makez Berger and Hunter Lamprecht – who average 11.8 and 11.3 points per game, respectively – are the top two scorers this year, but four other Falcons average over five points a game.
The last two seasons haven’t been any different.
Three seniors and then-junior Luke Schinzing led the scoring in 2018-19 while Zane Warkentin and Kyle Berger were the top two point grabbers the season before.
Several seniors on this year’s team feel the continuity on offense is one of several reasons why Sierra Lutheran continues to win games down the stretch.
“Most of us know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said senior Hunter Lamprecht, who added that many of the Falcons have been playing together long before their high school days. “I can trust everyone on my team to get what they want to get done.”
With anyone being able to have a big offensive output, Walther and company know it makes them difficult to scout, but it’s the opposite end of the floor where the Falcons feel they separate themselves.
“When I came out here (from Wisconsin) I was pretty much defensive minded,” said Walther. “A big part of that was the players I’ve had all these years, for the most part, have taken that in and gone along with my plan of being defensively focus.”
The successes of this season have been no different as Walther said Sierra Lutheran is creating 15 points a game off of turnovers.
Each team over the last three seasons has been fairly similar on paper, including defensively where all three squads have averaged 12-to-14 steals per game each year.
“Everything comes from our defense,” said fellow senior Teagan Berger, who leads the team with 44 steals in 12 games.
When defense translates to offense and Sierra Lutheran is playing unselfish basketball in the halfcourt, is when it feels most dangerous.
This season, much like the previous two, the Falcons are posting double-digit assist totals per game.
“I think us passing a lot more,” said Schinzing. “I think it opens up better shots and open shots for easy points.”
State tournament aspirations
The hot streaks through league play and the end of the regular season have left the Falcons with one thing to be desired – a state tournament berth.
Last year’s loss in the regional semifinal, especially as the higher seed, made an impression on not only the players, but the coaching staff as well.
“Last year I think we were a pretty solid team and it was very much a letdown that we didn’t get there. I think that was big expectation,” said Walther. “That was a really hard one last year to reflect on, for me personally. I really felt like I let the team down.”
The regional semifinal loss not only stung Walther, but his senior leaders as well.
“We think about it all the time,” said Teagan Berger. “What we did wrong personally and I think it’s just a learning point.”
“I think getting that close, like state, it hurt to lose then,” Schinzing said. “I guess it pushes me more when regionals do come around.”
The head coach and his seniors all agreed that being mentally prepared for the big stage was the biggest takeaway from last season’s heartbreak.
With four games left this season mostly against opponents the Falcons have already beaten, Sierra Lutheran is looking to continue testing its mental fortitude before heading to Mineral County in a few weeks for its regional tournament.
“It’s just making sure that we’re consistent night in and night out,” Walther said.