LOVELAND — The sign beside the locker room underneath the stands at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland during the 1A state basketball tournament changed quickly on Friday.
Vail Christian athletic director Tim Pierson was searching for the Saints after they had been eliminated Friday morning by Norwood, 68-47, but ended up finding them in soon-to-be Fleming’s dressing room.
The Saints, however, wanted to linger a bit, and did, soaking up the last minutes of the state experience, however frustrating and disappointing, and, yes, simultaneously, joyous.
‘We’re a team’
There is no way of sugar-coating it. Vail Christian had a rough go of it the last two days on the state’s biggest stage, and injuries to key players didn’t help matters. But at the same time the Saints were here, and there are 50-something other teams in Class 1A who really wanted to be in Loveland this week.
“We’re a team. We’re the definition of a team,” Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns said. “We have guys who do certain things well, and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. We didn’t have a full team out there. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do on each end of the floor.”
Ethan Ellsworth was hobbling on his badly sprained ankle from last week’s regional game. Fellow big man Alex Davis was out with a concussion. Junior Cooper Gould, who’s been battling ankle injuries all season, wasn’t moving well either.
“We were a shell of ourselves. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to come down here and be then full Vail Christian team we were all year,” Kuhns said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a team. This was a special season and the last two days can’t put a damper on it.”
Credit Norwood. The Mavericks took it to Vail Christian. After a 12-12 first-quarter tie, Norwood broke it open with 20 points in the second quarter and kept going. Dakota Winner had 18 points for the Mavericks, followed by Jeff Williams’ 17.
Saints senior Branden Currey had 18 for Vail Christian. Currey is one of the team’s four seniors who played their final game for the Saints, along with Parker Poage, Sebastian Joly and Christian Bohren.
“It hurts a little bit, but it’s a special group.,” Kuhns said. “This group far over-achieved than any other group we’ve had. These last two days don’t take anything away from it.”
Kuhns added that he didn’t know what the Saints’ record was during the past two seasons that his team has made the state tournament. It’s 36-13, which is outstanding for a program that started 14 years ago and celebrated its first win over Soroco’s junior-varsity team back in the day.
“We started at the very bottom,” Kuhns said. “We have gotten an expectation that we’re going to do well, we’re going to compete and we’re going to win. It carried over from last year to this year and it had been building for many years. And the foundation is set for the future.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @cfreud.