Spalding qualified for the boys state tournament in 1991.
Spalding Academy made it in 1994.
Now for the first time, No. 1-rated Spalding/Spalding Academy will be taking its boys team to state when the fifth-seeded Knights (23-2) face fourth-seeded Wausa (22-3) in the D-2 state tournament at 10:45 a.m. Thursday at Lincoln North Star High School.
Spalding/SA coach Joe Imus said the town has shown his team tremendous support.
“We’ve had some pretty good followings,” Imus said. “For our district final our whole side filled up. There were more people in the bleachers than what live in Spalding, which is kind of crazy.
“Small towns like this, when you make it to a state tournament and you’re not familiar with it, the whole town pretty much shuts down.”
Making it to the state tournament was certainly a goal for the Knights. That goal has become a reality, but now there are more goals ahead it them.
“I told the kids, every year at state it seems like there is always one team down there that is never at state and they’re just happy to be down there and get their butts kicked by 50,” Imus said. “So we kind of have bigger goals than just making it down there. We’ll see where that takes us.”
Spalding/SA’s two losses have come to D-1 state qualifiers St. Mary’s and Burwell. The Knights avenged the loss to Burwell in the Goldenrod Conference Tournament with a win over the Longhorns two weeks later in Spalding.
“That was just not us,” Imus said of the loss to Burwell. “We were missing a lot of easy shots. At the time we were averaging about 75 points a game and we scored 38. After that, we realized we could have played a lot better than we played.
“The second time we played, we didn’t change anything we did. We played them the same way and early in the third quarter we were up by as much as 19. That’s when our crowd really started supporting us. There was a ton of people supporting us.”
The Knights are averaging 70 points a game this season. Senior guard Michael Glaser leads the way at 15.2 a game. Senior forward Kyle Bloom (13.0 ppg) and senior guard Eric Berger (10.7 ppg) are also in double figures.
“I have a bunch of seniors who have been great leaders in practice,” Imus said. “At practice it doesn’t matter if you’re our leading scorer or a guy on JV who doesn’t even suit up for varsity, everybody is just pushing each other. Throughout the course of the season that has really helped us improve.”
Wausa averages 60.1 points per game. The Vikings are led by senior Guard Marcus Claussen (14.7 ppg) and senior forward Trevor Wakeley (10 ppg).
“They’re really athletic,” Imus said. “Some of the coaches I’ve talked to have said we’re really similar teams. They have a little height advantage on us, but hopefully we can use our team quickness to our advantage.”
Imus said the Class D-2 race is up for grabs.
“You have about seven teams who have a shot at winning the whole thing, so it’s pretty unpredictable,” Imus said.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any games where you’d call it an upset or surprising. Seven of them have been rated all season. I think it’s a pretty good field.”