It’s been nearly 20 years since Oakland and Carson-Macedonia joined forces to become Riverside High School.
Since then, the Bulldogs’ representation in the girls or boys state basketball tournaments could best be described by the sound of crickets chirping.
That silence, however, has been replaced by roars of approval from the adults and students in those communities. Fifth-seeded, ninth-rated Riverside (24-1) will play fourth-seeded, second-rated Storm Lake St. Mary’s (24-1) at 12:15 p.m. Monday in a Class 1-A quarterfinal at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“It’s been extremely exciting for our kids, the town, the coaches,” Riverside coach Jason Shelangouski said. “We want them to enjoy the moment, too. Some people get to go it seems like every year. Some people only get to go once in their lifetime. However it happens for these kids, you have to enjoy the moment now.”
Riverside had some outstanding teams in the late 1990s that didn’t break through. Since a manchild named Ricky Williams entered high school three years ago, the Riverside community knew it would have a chance to make history. Williams led the Bulldogs with 15 points and more than 11 rebounds per game as a freshman. The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder enters state with 1,973 career points and 1,191 rebounds.
Only four Iowa preps have ended their careers with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds: Mike Putnam of Ottumwa Walsh, Jess Settles of Winfield-Mount Union, Terry Anderson of Diagonal and Raef LaFrentz of MFL-Mar-Mac.
Williams is more concerned with reaching team goals.
“To be the first Riverside team to do it, that’s pretty amazing,” said Williams, a Briar Cliff recruit. “It’s still settling in right now that we’re one of the top eight teams in the state. It’s a pretty big accomplishment.”
This season, Williams averages 26.9 points and 14.6 rebounds per game.
“It feels like he’s been here for eight years,” said Treynor coach Scott Rucker, a Western Iowa Conference rival, earlier this season. “He’s just been so good for so long, and he’s taken his game to another level this year.”
Shelangouski said a key reason for his program’s landmark season is the contributions of the rest of the team. Senior Ean Patrick (9.5 points) guards the opponent’s top scorer and junior Brady Ryun (8.9 points, 4.0 assists) is a smooth playmaker at the point. The others starters are juniors Malachi Dillon and Garrett Graves. All the starters are from the Carson and Macedonia areas, and neither town has ever been represented at the boys tournament. Oakland advanced in 1985 and 1986.
“It takes a team to get there. And a good team to get there,” Shelangouski said. “A team that works well together, and this team works well together. The reason we got there is because of that trust factor with everybody.”
The Bulldogs are facing a formidable outfit. St. Mary’s has won 100 of its last 104 games, and is making its third straight state appearance. They’re the only team in the state with two players averaging at least 23 points per game: 6-0 senior Luke Lenhart (24.7) and 6-6 senior Kennedy Drey (23.3).
“A lot of times they do a pretty decent job of finding other kids when they face double teams,” said the 28-year-old Shelangouski (66-28), in his fourth year. “We need to make sure we help and recover.”
The Riverside coach wants his team to know that it doesn’t need a perfect game to win.
“We have our hands full, but I know after watching film that they are a beatable team,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s invincible.”
It’s an exciting time for the Riverside community. Signs have popped up everywhere wishing the team luck. The players spoke in front of adoring elementary and middle-school students this past week.
“The town has been really behind us,” Shelangouski said. “It kind of makes us like rock stars, but at the same time we still have a job to do when we get down there.”