R-C Sports Notebook: State tournament follow-up

There was an untold storyline running somewhere in the undercurrents of the NIAA state tournament.

It dawned on me about halfway through the first quarter as Cheyenne took a 22-4 lead (The Desert Shields later pushed ahead to a 93-55 win).

To the Desert Shields, the floor at Lawlor Events Center was just a grand stage in a big building 500 miles from home.

For the Tigers, Lawlor brings with it a certain mystique.

It's been 16 years since the Douglas boys made it to this stage, which to put in physcial terms would be the same year sophomore guard CJ Marcotte was born.

While Cheyenne ran up and down the floor at the start of Thursday's game, Douglas was simply trying to adjust to the environment.

This is the place where the kids from Gardnerville watched their beloved Nevada Wolf Pack play growing up.

It's a heady thing, warming up on the floor while looking up at the seats you used to watch the big game from.

Even if they weren't there in person, they'd at least seen it multiple times on ESPN in the past several years.

As a reporter, it was surreal for me watching the local boys playing on the floor of a big-time venue and I didn't even have a stake in the game.

All that aside, there's the unfamiliarity of a huge multi-sided scoreboard hanging over center court, freestanding hoops on either end and press and television rows bordering right up on the floor.

The close confines almost seemed to accentuate the vast expanse of seats just beyond the fishbowl.

Douglas coach Corey Thacker made the observation that whoever was able to settle in first would have the advantage.

It ended up taking the Tigers a full quarter before they were able to start playing their game, and by then it was already out of reach.

"We just had stars in our eyes and they (Cheyenne) were ready to go," he said.

But the upside is, you hopefully only have to break the ice once. Success is known to breed succuss, and should the crop of underclassmen delve their way back into the state tournament in the next one, two or three years, they won't be in this situation again.

Take this into account: All but one of the Tigers' returners for next year put points on the board in the second half of Thursday's game. Collectively, the underclassmen went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

It'll be interesting to see if the younger group will be able to parlay the experience into a win at state down the road.

This group of Huskies' seniors that claimed the state title last week could be a good example to Douglas' underclassmen.

When Reno won the state title two seasons ago at Lawlor, its lineup was dominated by seniors. Only two players on the floor for the Huskies last Friday saw action in the 2006 title game.

But that experience descends down through the ranks. Reno took the floor last week as a confident team, following the example of the two who had been there before.

Douglas got every player on the floor in the second half of its loss to Cheyenne, and that subtle detail may end up paying big dividends in the next couple of years.

I'm not sure words will be able to describe the type of team Cheyenne was.

From the way the Desert Shields broke out in the first quarter Thursday, it would appear that film wasn't really able to capture it either.

There were three types of teams Douglas struggled with this season. Those with tremendous depth, those with a fluid transition game and those with outstanding inside-outside tandems/trios.

Cheyenne represented the best of all three on one roster.

When I say athletic, I don't mean simply that they were quick and able to jump high. The players on Cheyenne's roster exhibited a strong sense of the game, especially when they got moving.

The Desert Shields were two or three steps ahead of the Tigers in nearly every facet of the game.

If a Douglas player was able to get in position to seal off a primary breakaway threat, Cheyenne consistently made the extra pass, or two, to come away with the bucket.

Aside from being stocked with athletes, they were extremely unselfish with the ball.

A lot was made of Elijah Johnson, Cheyenne's 6-4 junior who is ranked among the top five junior guards nationally. He lived up to his billing with a number of highlight reel dunks and some smooth shots on the offensive end, but had it just been Douglas would have been able to key him down.

After all, the Tigers contained Galena's Luke Babbitt and Utah State-bound Jordan Stone of Skyview High School earlier this year. The defense proved it could handle big-name prospects.

But Cheyenne's depth was so extreme that Johnson wasn't even his team's high-scorer (he finished with 13 points) and never had to push to take over the game.

Their ability to share the ball spread out the floor enough to take away the Tiger size advantage on defense as well.

It was a rough goodbye for the Douglas seniors, but it gave the younger players a good look at where they hope to be.

Listening to the quotes coming from Cheyenne's players after the win over Douglas, I didn't even need to know the outcome of the other state semifinal to know that the Desert Shields would not be taking home the state title.

Heralded Division I prospect Elijah Johnson proclaimed that no one in the city or the state could run with his team.

My first thought was, "I guess you haven't seen Reno's Austin Morgan play yet."

The Reno guard was every bit the playmaker in the state championship, scoring 16 of his 32 points in the final quarter alone as the Huskies beat Cheyenne 76-72 the following evening.

As I said above, there simply is not another team I've seen this year with the pure athleticism that Cheyenne exhibited.

But a glaring blemish on their game was that if a team was to push the ball right back down the floor at them, the said team would get easy points.

Apparently, that is exactly what Reno's gameplan was.

If Morgan didn't propell himself up the national recruiting lists with his performance during the state playoffs, I don't know what it'll take.

The kid can flat out play, especially in big-time games.

I've got to say, prior to last week I have not been sold on Duke-bound Reno senior Olek Czyz.

Czyz's performance during the state tournament, however, has changed my mind.

The 6-8 forward poured in 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against Cheyenne and carried the Huskies in the semifinals against Foothill with 25 points.

Come to think of it, Czyz has shined in big-game situations. His 360 dunk to end the third quarter against Douglas earlier this year will go down in Northern 4A lore.

I'll be curious to see how Czyz develops at Duke. His raw talent goes without question. With a couple of years under the eye of Mike Krzyzewski, he could turn into a fine college player.

Not even two days out of the end of the winter season and the high school started tryouts for spring sports over the weekend.

Ten days of practice and the baseball team will launch right into things with its season-opener next week at the Bearman Memorial Tournament at Reno March 6.

The Lady Tiger softball team follows right on baseball's heels, opening at a tournament in Sacramento March 7.

Douglas' baseball team will debut its newly-rennovated home field with a grandstand behind home plate, a new backstop and new press box March 20 in its league-opener against Wooster.

The track team will get to host its first home meet since 1988 with the grand opening of the Big George Sports Complex all-weather track.

Big George Ventures also put forth the money for a new automated time-keeping system at the Carson Valley Swim Center, which will also make its high school debut this spring. We'll have a story on that in the coming weeks.

When was the last time a Douglas boys' athletic team won a state title?

- Former Tiger coach Rob Streeter was in the stands to watch his squad after coaching Douglas to the regional title game last year. Streeter just wrapped up his first season at the helm of the brand-new Clovis North High School in Fresno, Calif.

Streeter said things went well this year, although being a first-year program, his team competed only at the freshman level.

They'll get thrown into the mix next year, however, as they make the jump to the varsity level.

- Despite the one-sided score, Douglas actually stuck with Cheyenne in the second half, getting outscored by three at 42-39 over the final two quarters.

The 1978-79 boys' basketball team claimed the state title. Douglas has not won a team title in boys' sports since moving up to the large-school classification in the early 80s.


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