HINSDALE – There are seven seniors on the Hinsdale boys’ basketball team.
If you count the 12s in the grade column on the team’s roster, you’ll only count five. But make no mistake, there are seven seniors on the Hinsdale boys’ basketball team.
The other two — Garrett Younkin and Justin Leatherberry — keep vigil over their brethren by way of star blankets hung high on the south wall of the Hinsdale High gymnasium. Younkin and Leatherberry were killed in separate automobile wrecks before they saw their school careers fulfilled, before they could see their Hinsdale Raider team jump to a 19-1 record, a District 3C title last weekend and a first-round Eastern C divisional win over Savage on Thursday. Both boys would have been seniors this year and key players in the Raider basketball success.
“They were probably the two most athletic kids in our class,” point guard Dallas Capdeville recalled.
The unexpected loss of two teens would hit hard in any town. But for Hinsdale, population 219, tragedy didn’t end there. Between Younkin’s death in 2009 and Leatherberry’s in 2012, Hinsdale graduate Cole Albus was killed in a 2011 wreck before he finished his freshman year at MSU-Northern.
“I coached them all,” Mitch Capdeville, Hinsdale’s boys’ basketball coach and Dallas’ father, said. “It’s almost to the point that I almost wished I wasn’t coaching because I wouldn’t have been that close to them.”
Albus’ younger brother, Kyle, is a senior basketball player at Hinsdale.
“It’s so hard on everybody, one after another like this. It’s just a really big toll,” Kyle Albus said. “Some of it, you can’t really think about. If you let it get to you, you just can’t think straight. I kind of just have to block some stuff out.”
Reminders of their departed brothers and friends are everywhere, though. The blankets, gifts from other area high schools, hang on the gym wall. A memorial sits in a trophy case in the school’s foyer.
“We don’t want to forget about them, that’s for sure,” Mitch Capdeville said.
It would be hard to even if they tried. Younkin’s younger brother, Cache, is a sophomore on the team. Austin Leatherberry, Justin’s brother, is a freshman for the Raiders; their younger brother, sixth-grader Wesley, is the team manager.
“It’s more than just about winning. It’s about playing for them and their families,” Albus said.
Dallas Capdeville, who said Leatherberry and Younkin were two of his best friends, plays as “a tribute for them. Everything that I’ve worked so hard for, I just always think of them.”
Everything they’ve worked for looks to be a Class C boys’ basketball title, something Hinsdale hasn’t seen since 1988.
“Ever since we were fourth-graders, we’ve wanted to win a state championship,” Albus said. “I guess it’s all we’ve ever wanted. It’s really what we’re going for.”
1988 title run
That ’88 state championship was a special one for Hinsdale, and not just because it’s the school’s only boys’ basketball title. That game, played against Geraldine at the Billings MetraPark despite a nasty snowstorm, took three overtimes to decide. Hinsdale won 78-70.
Montana Grizzly standout Daren Engellant starred for the Tigers, but Hinsdale had its own arsenal. Rocky Mountain College men’s basketball coach Bill Dreikosen was the Raiders’ junior point guard. Six-foot-3 forward Wayne Synan was the tournament MVP, finishing the title game with 36 points and scoring 90 points in the tourney’s three games. Box Elder boys’ assistant Dustin White made some key buckets down the stretch. Albus’ uncle Jared played for the team.
Mitch Capdeville and Albus’ father, Eric, graduated the season prior, but Mitch recalled the triple-overtime game from his seat inside the Billings MetraPark, which was just half full because of the nasty weather.
Mitch sees similarities between that ’88 team and the one he coaches this season, and it boils down to confidence. The coach chalks that up to the boys’ success on the football field, where they co-op with Glasgow.
“Football gives them so much confidence,” Mitch Capdeville said. “It just turns them into men. … It makes them more physical. Three of them played on the line … for them to come up against guys bigger than them, they’re just not scared.”
‘Really good, really deep’
At the start of the season, Mitch was worried the team wouldn’t improve as much as other contenders in Class C.
“All I could think of is we’ve got to figure out a way to make a big improvement,” the coach said.
That improvement began with urging 6-foot-6 forward Lukas Johnson to take charge down low. Mitch forbade the senior from passing out of the block.
“He had to put the ball in the basket,” the coach said. “And man, it worked. We got him scoring, and boy, he does a good job for us.”
Dallas runs the point and, according to his father, reaches double figures in assists nearly every game. Albus is one of the better distance shooters in the division, and 6-foot-3 Wyatt Pattison has come into his own this season. Fellow senior Brett Johnson rounds out the starting five.
With the services of Younkin and Leatherberry, the Raiders would really be scary, Mitch said.
“We would be really good and really deep,” the coach said.
The younger Capdeville credits Leatherberry for much of that success despite his absence from the court nowadays.
“He was always the kid that pushed me to be better at everything,” Dallas said. “We never had a weightlifting class, and we both wanted to be on the varsity football team. We’d be in here every day before school lifting weights and just trying to make ourselves better.”
Albus recalled Aug. 8, 2012, the day of Leatherberry’s wreck. Albus was digging irrigation ditches on a nearby farm.
“I was actually going to go with him after I got done there,” the senior said. “That was kind of heavy for me. I could have been there if I hadn’t been doing what I was doing. To think about it really messes with your head.”
But whatever the weight Albus carries remembering his lost brother and friends — and given the circumstances, they’re likely many — that weight is lifted on the basketball court.
“Sports helps,” the senior said. “It’s like a coping mechanism, I guess. If you play sports, you can forget about everything else.”
Winning certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
And if the Raiders can take care of business this weekend at the Eastern C divisional — it’s not unlikely, they haven’t lost since Dec. 5 — the town of Hinsdale will again make the trek to the site of its most triumphant athletic feat.
The Class C boys’ state tournament is again at the Billings Metra.
Garrett Younkin, killed Dec. 11, 2009, in wreck east of Hinsdale. He was 13, in seventh grade.
Cole Albus, died Sept. 27, 2011, in crash near Saco. Other three passengers survived. Cole was a freshman at MSU-Northern and a member of the rodeo team.
Justin Leatherberry, killed Aug. 8, 2012, in crash north of Hinsdale. He was 15, a sophomore.