The win-or-go-home nature of the playoffs means some worthy teams can get overlooked. The Highland boys basketball team quietly put together a strong season and has shown tremendous improvement under second-year coach Marcus Hall.
Three years ago the Huskies won just two games while Hall was an assistant. Hall took over the next season and the team won six and this season improved to 14 victories before being eliminated Tuesday night by fifth-ranked Lone Tree.
The team was 14-9 with seven of those losses to Iowa Mennonite, Lone Tree and Mediapolis.
“Coach Marcus Hall is doing a great job with that program,” Lone Tree coach Tom Squiers said, citing the stability that Hall has created.
Hall said the difference has been in the overall outlook of the program.
“One of the things I wanted to do is make basketball a priority and make it enjoyable,” Hall said. “From there you can kind of rope them in and start to do the things as far as training and discipline that equal actual wins when it comes to actual basketball.
“We tried to play as much basketball as possible over the summer, and a lot of times that would end up to be small individual workouts or three-on-three or we played a lot of pick-up games against adults, staff members, basically any able- bodied player who wanted to get some games in. That triggered the interest.”
Hall said he had capable players who just needed to build confidence through repetition. Five of the top six scorers are seniors, which helps, too.
“Guys like Jake Hootman, Talon McFarland and Brad Lampe have played really well and are carrying us in most of our games,” Hall said.
Hootman, who along with McFarland was first team all SEISC, is the leading scorer. Lampe is the point guard “who really makes us go and he’s a good defensive presence for us,” Hall said. McFarland, a forward, is the second-leading scorer. Josh Brase is the lone junior starter.
Hall, who is only 26, graduated from Highland but had four coaches in four years. The lack of stability has held the program back. It was a priority for him to have the players enjoy the game and the experience of high school basketball.
“I had had that background of there constantly being a revolving door of coaches,” he said. “Basically, I wasn’t going to take on something that I wasn’t going to follow through on.
“And we still have a long way to go. We lost our fair share of games and still got beat by the better teams by a significant margin, so I’m far from satisfied with our progress. But I can step back and be pleased that we are starting to do things the right way.”
The Huskies will lose a lot of firepower, but Hall said the junior varsity team was 18-1 this season and the school has a strong eighth-grade class.
He also has gotten great support from his assistants, Bill Zywiec and Josh Berry, who help create a positive but competitive atmosphere.
* SQUIERS VS. SQUIERS DOESN’T MATERIALIZE: Preston ruined a storybook matchup in Class 1A boys tournament play Tuesday when it defeated Bellevue Marquette, 53-49, in a district semifinal. Marquette is coached by Jim Squiers, the brother of Lone Tree coach Tom Squiers. Had Marquette advanced, the two brothers’ teams would have played tonight.
Jim is retiring after winning 653 games, the fourth-best total in Iowa history. He would have faced Tom, who has won 347 games.
“It’s happened before,” Tom said. “In 2007, we made it to the state tournament. We were supposed to play. He played Andrew, and Andrew upset them and we ended up playing Andrew in the substate game.”
The teams played earlier in the season, and the Lions won by one point. Preston (20-3) is the immediate concern, and Tom Squiers has scouted the Trojans.
“They are really good defensively; they’ve got two really good shooters (senior Colton Bormann, junior Chase Zaruba), and they’ve got a 6-6 kid (Logan Wilhelm),” he said. “They have a nice basketball team.”
Preston will have to find an answer for all-stater Bryan Forbes, of course. Forbes averages 23 points and shoots 46 percent from 3-point range. Andy Dodson and Gabe Lorack average 10 points apiece for the senior-dominated Lions.
“The Bormann kid is probably as good of a shooter as Bryan (Forbes) is so they’re probably asking if we’ve got somebody who can defend him,” Squiers said.
Bormann is shooting an other-worldly 58 percent from 3-point range and averages 16.8 points per game. Zaruba shoots 47 percent behind the arc and averages 17.7. Wilhelm also averages in double figures.
The Lions have shown resilience in getting back off the deck after a 23-point loss to top-ranked Danville right before the postseason began.
“Danville’s got a great team,” Squiers said. “We, for whatever reason, don’t play very well in that Mid-Prairie gym or shoot it very well. We kind of talked about it Monday before we played our first district game that we had to forget about the Danville game and go into the tournaments. It was kind of the same way last year. Danville beat us right before tournaments and we ended up in the district final.”