Saints down Norwood, win district title
OLATHE – Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Vail Christian boys basketball knocked off Norwood, 42-32, Saturday afternoon in Olathe to capture the Class 1A District 1 Tournament.
It’s on to regionals against Deer Trail Saturday. The Saints will be playing at Glenwood Springs High School on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the biggest game in school history since … well, Vail Christian beat Norwood Saturday afternoon.
“We’re all really excited, finally getting over the hump,” senior Robby Bowles said. “The last three seconds, we kind of realized we did it.”
And, sorry about this, Austin Ellsworth and Zach Linder, but you’re going to miss some Eagle Valley baseball practice because it’s still basketball season.
“Norwood knocked us out last year,” senior Nigel Johnsen said. “It was really nice to conquer the beast.”
“It’s kind of a relief,” senior Gunnar Wilson said. “I don’t feel satisfied yet.”
That would be the correct attitude – there are more games to be played. Nonetheless, this is a landmark moment for Vail Christian basketball.
“Vail Christian Saints wins districts,” said coach Sheldon Kuhns, sounding like a proud father, which he is of the program, not to mention Ethan and Abby Kuhns. “Who would have ever thought we’d win a game, 42-32? This team, whodathunkit?”
Yes, the running Saints can also be methodical on both sides of the ball. Vail Christian and Norwood were tied at 13 at the end of one quarter. The Mavericks were giving the Saints difficulty with their screens and motion. The Saints started to jump those screens, but Norwood was still playing a slow game, eating 20-30 seconds per possession.
The Saints’ defense hung with it and ground out a win. Bowles led the Saints with 14 points, while Wilson had nine.
And Vail Christian enters the regional round with a sparkling 17-4.
“That sounds pretty good,” Kuhns said. “Our guys were good in the locker room. There was a good cheer because you should have a good cheer when you win something, But then, it was, ‘All right, it’s back to work.'”
Maybe the current edition of Vail Christian basketball doesn’t carry the burden of history, and that’s probably a good thing. The Saints’ Class of 2013 is used to thumping DeBeque like a drum. Those guys are used to having a point guard.
Yes, they’ve had the Friday District Blues, but Zach Linder openly joked about it last week, saying, “It’s kind of tradition right now, not to get through districts. To break that tradition would be a good thing.”
In a reference that will go way over the heads of the current Saints, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Vail Christian’s first win in the program’s came against Soroco’s JV. Not only are the 1A Saints playing up in a 2A Western Slope, they finished second this year with a 10-2 mark against the likes of the aforementioned Cardinals.
It was a really big deal to beat Ridgway in 2005 in the Jon Armstead Hail Mary Game. In overtime, Armstead was stuck in a press and just chucked the ball up. It bounced off a Ridgway player’s leg and right to Todd Glandorf who got it to Caleb Pearson for the game winner in a dramatic 50-46 win.
DeBeque? The Dragons beat the Saints, 107-39, in 2004 on their Senior Night. DeBeque led all the way and then put their seniors in to score a few more. Thanks a bunch. The Saints finally got DeBeque on Jan. 21, 2006, by a count of 69-37.
The Saints had teams with tremendous post players like Pearson and Jaryd Francis in the early years, but no point guard. When they finally got one, Will Parker, he had his nose broken before a big game against Hayden. This led to Kuhns standing outside the Vail Christian gym, Googling every sporting good store in the area on his Blackberry for a nose guard, so Parker could play. No nose guard, no Parker, and a loss to the Tigers.
And, naturally, the Saints got guard heavy in the last few years, and had no posts in the paint.
“This group has some tough memories of this Olathe gym,” Kuhns said of the Saints’ inability to advance to regionals the last three years. “When the seniors were sophomores, I remember a trip back from Soroco when guys like Robby, Austin and Zach asked me why we don’t like DeBeque? We talked for about an hour about the history. They all know what guys like Caleb and Jaryd went through. They wanted to break the curse for those that went before them, for themselves, as well as the coaches and the players to come.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.