Rebels look to playoffs with blend of youth, experienceThe “dream season” continues at Moose Lake, where the Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels enter the section playoffs Thursday night with a 21-5 record.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The “dream season” continues at Moose Lake, where the Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels enter the section playoffs Thursday night with a 21-5 record.
The victories tie a school record set in 2000, and coach Scott Hendricks is proud of his players’ accomplishments.
“We did this with three seniors and we started two freshmen this year,” he said. “That is very gratifying for us.”
The ongoing success of the Moose Lake-Willow River program can be attributed largely to Nate Zuk and Joey Bohaty, seniors who lead the starting lineup.
“Nate Zuk and Joey Bohaty are good ballplayers,” Hendricks said. “[Zuk] and [Bohaty] are averaging about 18 points a game. Zuk is a four-year starter and Bohaty is a three-year starter.”
They are joined by fellow senior Chris Gunderson, the team’s sixth man.
“[Gunderson] has been a reserve this season, very hard working and dedicated,” Hendricks said. “Even though he doesn’t start, he’s a leader on that team and I think the world of him.”
Junior point guard Austin Jacobson, who saw varsity playing time as a seventh-grader, has grown into the position.
“He runs the show and he’s very quick,” remarked Hendricks. “He’s a smart player, and a gem of a kid.”
The three are joined by two freshmen – 6-foot-3 Caleb Koecher and 6-foot-4 Taylor Mattson.
“They have been starters all season,” Hendricks said. “Their goal is to do all they can to help the seniors succeed and they have a tremendous work ethic. They earned their jobs on the floor and they work very hard in the off season. All I have to do as a coach is see what happens between the black lines, and the kids earn their spots. My philosophy has always been that ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’”
A starting lineup with such disparity in age can be tricky to meld, and that was the case with the Rebels early in the season. They lost two of their first three games before a 68-50 win over Hermantown set the ship right. Moose Lake-Willow River went 19-3 after that, with perhaps the highlight of the season being an 86-25 win over Proctor on March 3 in which 17 different Rebels played.
“In our program, the biggest thing is that kids give themselves the opportunity and we provide the setting for kids to excel,” Hendricks said. “We give them the freedom and chance to excel, so we put those kids out there and say that the door is open.”
It’s all part of Hendricks’ coaching philosophy.
“I say that I don’t make champions, I find them,” he said. “We bring them along and play them. At this competitive level, you find kids who love the game and are willing to pay the price. Success keeps the pipeline full. That is what is taking shape now.”
The Rebels are a quiet bunch, according to their coach.
“Each group has its own character and personality and this group is no exception,” he said. “They are a quiet bunch with a great work ethic. They just work hard, they aren’t rah-rah at all, but on the court they are 100 percent full bore. That is their specialty.”
The Rebels face Hinckley-Finlayson to open the section playoffs on Thursday night at home. Pine City and Mora are the other teams in the Rebels’ half of the bracket, but Hendricks is more concerned about finding a way to beat H-F for the third time this season.
Moose Lake-Willow River beat Hinckley-Finlayson 73-44 just after Christmas and 84-71 in the final game of the regular season on Friday.
“It’s always scary playing a team for the third time,” Hendricks said. “I don’t care what [Hinckley has] done, particularly at tournament time. It’s a 0-0 season now, we aren’t taking anything lightly and they have good athletes. We have to find a way to beat them for a third time if we want to advance.”