MILES — Easton Valley boys basketball coach Dan Beck thought maybe some big things could be in store for his team as early as this past summer.
“When we started the season, I was really impressed with the little bit of time we got with them in the summer,” Beck said. “At that point, I thought we had the potential to be really, really good. When practice started, I told our kids, ‘If we can stay undefeated through the first part of the season until Christmas, I really thought we had a chance to run the table, and we did.”
The No. 5-seeded River Hawks (22-0) face No. 4-seeded Martensdale-St. Mary’s (24-0) in a Class 1A State Quarterfinal noon Monday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
EV senior Porter Fuegen said the River Hawks won’t let the weight of the moment bear down on them.
“That’s been the thing — don’t let the stage get too big for you,” Fuegen said. “We’re going in as the lower seed. We really don’t have a whole lot to lose, so we’ve really just got to go in there and give it everything we’ve got. If we do that, I think we’re just going to keep being successful like we have been all year.
“That’s been our mentality — go out, give 100 percent, give as much effort as you’ve got and things are going to go your way.”
The River Hawks will have to contain the Blue Devils’ high octane offense. The Blue Devils have four players in double-figure scoring and one more player who averages 9.3 points per game.
“I think defensively, we’re going to have to play maybe our best game because they’re just so good on offense,” Beck said. “They’ve got five kids that shoot over 30 percent from 3. They look really confident when they play. Pressure doesn’t seem to bother them a whole lot, so we’re really going to have to work hard to try to take them out of their comfort zone.
“Offensively, I think we’re just going to have to keep scoring. We can’t afford to let them hit three, then we hit two — if that keeps happening, we’re going to be down. We’re going to have to get more buckets than them because most of ours could easily be twos.”
River Hawks senior Kaleb Cornilsen, — who leads the team in points (23.3 per game), rebounds (10.1) and steals (5.1) — said the team is focused heading into Monday.
“It’s been a great feeling knowing we’re going to be out there in a couple days,” Cornilsen said. “We’ve still got to look at it as a business trip before we have the real fun. Just coming into practice everyday and having fun even though we still have to win three more games, keeping it in our head that we can’t start lallygagging.
“We need to keep getting better everyday even though there’s only a couple days left.”
Making it to state accomplishes one of the seniors’ biggest dreams.
“Ever since I entered high school as a freshman, I’ve always looked up to going to state any year, but it happened my senior year,” Cornilsen said. “It’s going to be pretty awesome to do it with all my friends I’ve known forever, and just to make sure I get it done and go in there and have fun.
“We know we can beat any team we want to if we keep playing the way we have been. If we play the way we can, no one’s going to stop us.”
Fuegen said he was even more motivated to make it to state after nearly making it last year, as well as coming in close in football.
“It drove me a little more, getting that close in football and not quite making it, to just come in and take care of business, go out and make a run to state finally — it’s a super good feeling to finally punch our ticket, break through and make it out there after missing in basketball last year and football the last two years,” he said.
Beck said the team took inspiration from the River Hawks’ 2014 state trip, and watched their game from that season in a recent film session.
“We just tried to get a feel for the place, the routine they go through in pre-game,” Beck said. “We’re going to be there early so they get a chance to sit in the arena and take it in before we go in and get dressed. I always just tell our kids, ‘Enjoy the moment. Don’t get nervous, don’t get scared that things aren’t going to go well. Enjoy the moment, get out there, play smart, play hard, play together and everything will be okay.’”
If EV wins, it will play the winner of No. 1 North Linn (25-0) and no. 8 South Winneshiek (18-6) at 6 p.m. on March 10.