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Spartans suffer two-point season-opening loss

Vinton-Shellsburg sends Solon home 0-1

VINTON– It’s two points they’ll have to make up down the road.
Solon’s varsity basketball team came up just shy in a season-opener on the road at Vinton-Shellsburg Dec. 6, falling to the Vikings 58-56.
The Spartans ran out to an 11-5 lead in the first quarter, but the Vikings turned the tables, holding Solon to six points in the second.
Although Solon led 17-16 at halftime, Vinton-Shellsburg took the lead in the third and held the Spartans at bay until time expired.
“We came out and did a great job of executing our game plan on defense early, said Solon Head Coach Matt Lesan. “The guys played some great team defense, and did a great job of keeping them out of the paint. We gave up five points in the first quarter and held them to only five made baskets in the first half.”
The Spartans struggled to take care of the basketball, Lesan said, but he gave Vinton credit for the win.
“They are a well-coached bunch of kids who continued to hang around and once they took the lead they never gave it back up,” he noted.
Solon shot well from the floor (47.9 percent), but made only 16 trips to the foul line, converting on only nine shots (56.2 percent). Conversely, the Vikings made 19-26 from the charity stripe (73 percent) while shooting 43.5 percent from the field.
“Our offense looked really good when the ball would get into the paint whether that was with a drive or a pass to the post, but when we took early shots or didn't make the defense work by reversing the basketball, it didn't work out,” Lesan reported. “We took some quick shots which led to easy baskets for the other team.”
Solon had three players in double figures, led by junior Ben Cusick with 14. Sophomore Kinnic Pusteoska added 11 and senior Cam Miller 10. Junior David Bluder added nine points.
Miller also led the team with eight rebounds and had four blocked shots.
Vinton-Shellsburg’s C.J. Rickels led all scorers with 21 points.
Lesan said he was encouraged with how the team responded after the game. “Obviously we are all upset with the outcome, but we understand that this is a learning and growing process,” he said. “We will continue to get better everyday and I'm excited to see this team grow.”
Miller, Cusick, Bluder, junior Bo Janssen and junior Brady Jeworrek were Lesan’s starting five, but the first-year coach said his lineup isn’t set in stone.
“We are continuously evaluating our practices and looking at what lineups give us the greatest chance to win,” he said. “Playing time is something that is earned in practice, all of my players have had individual meetings with me and know exactly where they stand. If their role is something they don't like they also know what they can do to change that.”
The Spartans will have to fill the void left after last year’s leading scorer, A.J. Coons, went down with a season-ending injury in the Class 3A football championship.
“Whenever you lose a young man like A.J. it really hurts,” Lesan observed. “Mainly because of the character and leadership he brings to the team.”
Coons will still be part of the team, he said, and had to be talked out of coming up to Vinton Friday night to support his teammates after his surgery.
“It's kids like A.J. that make Solon such a special place, and I look forward to coaching with him this year,” Lesan added. “A.J. has an extremely bright future ahead of him and I will look forward to keeping an eye on his successes.”
After traveling to Independence Dec. 10, the Spartans return for a Dec. 13 home opener against Benton Community. A rescheduled game hosting Center Point-Urbana has been moved to Saturday, Dec. 14, and Solon stays at home for two more, facing West Branch Monday, Dec. 16, and Central DeWitt Tuesday, Dec. 17.