It’s not easy to be the runt of the litter. Losing games is crushing.
We all get it. My Hillcrest Huskies were the bottom of the league in every sport we played during my tenure, except for a year or two of boys basketball and a few state championships in drill team. It’s hard to go back into the game after every timeout, having not even caught your breath yet, and getting beat play after play.
And yet, after suffering more than 15 losses and being the clear third-best team in Tooele County so far this season, the Stansbury boys basketball players have found it within themselves to not only keep playing, but they’ve secured the sport’s first-ever bid to the state tournament.
Friday night’s 56-39 win over Park City sealed the deal.
As the current fourth-place team in Region 10, Stansbury has two league wins — both over Park City — and two games to play. Park City has zero with one contest left. It’s mathematically impossible for the Stallions to not earn the bid.
And you know what? Good for Stansbury. It’s taken longer than I’m sure head coach Rich Lakin would have liked, but the Stallions will be listed as one of the 16 best basketball teams in 3A this season. And Lakin knows that it wouldn’t be possible without the progession of younger players like junior guard Jase Wanlass, who leads the team in scoring this season.
“I mean, you can see it in some of the plays. It’s just basically one-on-one and it’s tough to guard him. He’s a shooter,” Lakin said after Wanlass’ 18-point performance Friday. “His goal as a player is to make 500 shots a day, and in the offseason that’s what he’s doing. He’s shooting and it pays off. That’s a prime example for these younger guys that hey, if you want to be a great shooter, you’ve got to go shoot. You just can’t expect to be like that.”
Players like Wanlass embody the Stansbury program. He’s not the fastest on the court, nor is he the strongest, the one with the highest basketball IQ, or the one who holds opponents scoreless. What Wanlass does is play hard every time down the court without giving up when games taunt him with threats of double-digit losses.
But Wanlass and the rest of the Stallions have won the games they needed to in order to call themselves state tournament participants — though I’m sure everyone in the program would have liked more wins this season.
“Well, I’m never satisfied, we had a couple games earlier in the year get away from us,” Lakin said with a laugh as I spoke to him afterward on Friday. “But you know what? We needed this. We just needed this because it’s been seven years since the school’s been open. This is the seventh year. And sometimes it’s just ‘look, we got there’ and all the sudden, the pressure’s off and we can just play play basketball.”
But it’s true, the Stallions lost a game or two earlier this season that they came this close to winning — I watched as the team squandered a five-point lead in the fourth quarter to Union, only to see senior Chance Ross steal the ball during the final 20 seconds and get a fast-break layup to put Union up by three and win the 47-44 league opener on Jan. 13.
Then at Grantsville, it took a monster 23-point game from Cowboy point guard Cameron Potter to steal the four-point win — Potter hit two free throws during the final five seconds to put it out of reach as the Cowboys outlasted Stansbury 52-48 in Grantsville on Jan. 22.
Lakin said he keeps looking back at those two, which if they had gone the other way, would put Stansbury at 4-2 and tied with Tooele for second place, one game behind Union.
It’s still mathematically possible to make that a reality. If Stansbury beats Grantsville and Tooele this week, they’ll be at 4-4 and — with some help from Park City and Union, of course — lock up with the other two county schools in a three-way tie for second place.
Lakin knows that will require a lot of ‘ifs.’
“I keep looking back and I still want that Union game and that Grantsville game,” he said. “But the nice thing about it is we get Grantsville back here. And you know what? If we lose the next two, so be it: We get to the playoffs and let’s cherish it.”
Tavin Stucki is a sports writer from Midvale, Utah, who hasn’t found a sport he doesn’t like — or one he’s that great at, either. Send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.