BETTENDORF– “It was a great week for a great group of kids,” observed Head Coach Brad Randall.
The Solon Spartan basketball team took control of the district title game against North Cedar 70-56, and then plowed under Danville, 61-32, last week on its way to a third-straight Class 2A state tournament appearance.
The Spartans will now face long-time rival Mid-Prairie in a first round game Tuesday, March 9, at 1:45 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
In December, it was Mid-Prairie that broke Solon’s winning streak and handed the Spartans their first of two losses this season.
But according to Randall, the two teams have never met at the state tournament level. “We’ve had a lot of classic regular season games, but we’ve never met them in the state tournament since I’ve been head coach,” Randall noted.
The Spartans are the defending 2A champions, and were the winners of the consolation bracket in the 2008 tournament. In 2007, the Spartans were defeated in a substate game by Northeast Goose Lake.
“I’m just so happy for these kids,” Randall said of his 2010 squad, and he appealed to residents to come and watch the team.
“This team is a great example of selflessness,” he said. “This group symbolizes that to the max.
“They’re a great example for the community, a team that embodies the characteristics you really want to see,” he continued. “You just can’t help but enjoy watching them play.”
To reserve the spot on the list in Des Moines, the Spartans had to face North Cedar in the district championship at Cedar Rapids Jefferson Tuesday, Feb. 23, and Danville in a substate game Saturday night (Feb. 27).
The plan against North Cedar was to try to corral versatile Jordan Hay, control the boards and keep the tempo fast-paced.
In the first half it was touch-and-go. North Cedar had built a five-point lead in the second quarter and Hay was connecting on three-pointers.
But with just over a minute left before the half, the Spartans turned up the defensive pressure and junior forward Nick Day converted on the other end of the transition to give Solon a five-point lead at the break.
In the second half, Solon continued to build their lead. “I think we wore them down,” Randall remarked. All in all, the coach said, it was one of his team’s best outings. Solon scored 70 points, forced 18 turnovers while committing only seven, shot 19-24 from the free throw line and out-rebounded a team with more size in the post.
“I was so, so pleased with our free throw shooting,” Randall commented. “So many tournament games are decided at the free throw line.”
Zach Velez-Westphal led the Spartan offense with 18 points, but three other players were in double-figures. Tanner Wentzien added 16, Bubba Carter 14 and Jesse Carson 13. Four of Carson’s five rebounds came on the offensive glass, while Wentzien led the team with six.
And as good as the Spartans played in the district championship, the next game was even better.
In the substate game Saturday night at Bettendorf, Solon’s defense harassed No. 6 Danville’s twin freshmen guards, Michael and Steven Soukup. “We did a nice job of contesting every pass, every shot,” Randall said. “We just fed off our defense.”
Solon rolled out to a 21-6 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
Tanner Wentzien led the first-half surge and finished the game with 17 points, shooting 3-4 from the three-point line.
“Tanner showed up big in a big game,” Randall said of the senior. “He looked like a guy who had been in that situation before.”
Jesse Carson was the only other Spartan in double-figures with 11, but three other Solon players were hovering nearby in the stat column. In the second half, Randall said, Danville extended its defense to cover Solon’s guards and that freed up the inside game. Joe Weeks had nine points, Nick Day had seven, and each were 3-4 from the charity stripe.
Zach Velez-Westphal scored eight points and led in rebounding with seven.