There’s a howl in the air coming from the west, and it bears the faint resemblance to the roar of Wildcats.
Off to one of the school’s best starts in recent memory, the Wendover Wildcats boys basketball team is on top of Region 18 and looking to win its first region championship since the 1999-2000 season. The Wildcats are 14-2 with four games remaining in the season.
“With this team that we have, they’re very mature,” said WHS head coach David Lawson, who is in his sixth year as coach of the Wildcats. “It seems like we’re always trying to find a way to win. No matter what the situation is, these guys always find something to build on.”
Lawson said in the past the players may have given up when getting behind.
“Now if our shot’s off we’re finding something else that builds up our self-esteem,” Lawson said. “What we’re doing here is trying to create an atmosphere where they feel like they’re a part of something. I try to make them feel like we’re all family. My number one saying is take care of your brothers. You are your brother’s keeper, and they run with that.”
A part of that brotherhood comes from the fact that the seniors have played basketball together since they were children. Now that they’re all seniors, they felt ready to take aim at region and state.
“We played together since we were little kids, so we have a lot of communication,” said senior guard James Trujillo. “We’re having a blast.”
The team averages 67.2 points per game, and Trujillo pours in 23.4 of those points. Along with his scoring ability, senior forward Hector Duran averages 13.4 points per game.
“It’s fun. We’ve been scoring a lot,” Duran said. “We’ve been playing together since we were small, since we were in elementary. We’d go over to each other’s houses and play.”
Duran said he and his teammates have big goals for state this year, and they’re able to keep focused by giving it their all.
“I just hope we can make it to state and go far and try to win state because it’s our last year,” Duran said. “We pay attention to the coach and do whatever he tells us. Just go hard.”
The success Wendover has had this season hasn’t come without challenges, but the players are getting excited because they’re starting to see positive results from their hard work.
“Our senior class, we’ve been working at it hard ever since we were small,” said senior center Jose Collazo. “Coach told us that he had faith in us and that he was waiting on this moment for our senior class to do some damage. It’s showing a statement to all the other teams that we’re not the underdogs no more. We’re showing them we’re good and that Wendover basketball isn’t a joke.”
The players are having fun, too. Junior forward Landyn Shepherd said this season feels different than other seasons.
“It’s a lot different than other years,” Shepherd said. “We’re actually doing a lot better. We’re never giving up — determination and dedication.”
Shepherd said the top thing Coach Lawson has taught him is optimism.
“He’s taught us a lot,” Shepherd said, “but I’d say number one is always stay positive. Keep your head up, always fight and never give up.”
Shepherd said the best thing he’s learned from this season that he can pass on to others is always fight for your goals. If you have a goal, never stop chasing it.
Lawson said one of the team’s mottos is “’Til the last second, ’til the last minute, ’til the last bucket, we fight, we fight we fight.”
“What that means for us is that our goal is to never surrender,” Lawson said. “We’re going to fight until it is over.”
Collazo said Lawson has prepared them for the spotlight, and the players are ready to take on any challenge that comes their way.
“He’s prepared us to get ready for any game that comes at us, even the toughest competition,” Collazo said. “We just keep on fighting. We don’t stop.”
After getting some blowout wins at the beginning of the season, the Wildcats’ games have been closer during the thick of region play, including a three-point loss to Tintic on Jan. 24. After that loss, Lawson said the players came out extra determined to bounce back to their winning ways. He said that determination helped them toward a victory over Dugway on Jan. 29. The Wildcats won that rivalry game against Dugway 65-60. Wendover’s most recent victory was 63-51 against West Desert on Friday, which moved the team’s record to 7-1 in the region.
Lawson said the biggest difference from last year to this year is that Wendover is more team-oriented.
“You look at [James Trujillo] and not only is he scoring 20 a night, but he has 11 assists,” Lawson said. “That’s a goal is to get everyone involved on our roster. We want to get everyone involved because that’s what counts at the end.”
Lawson said he loves all of his players and is appreciative of them. He said it’s not about racking up the stats but playing as a team and having fun as a team.
This year’s Wendover roster consists of Trujillo, Duran, Collazo, Shepherd, junior guard Kyler Murphy, sophomore guard Dallan Murphy, junior forward Damion Valadez, senior center Alex Carlos, senior forward Luis Lopez, senior guard Cesar Contreras (who serves as team captain), junior center Blas Aguirre and junior guard Salvador Rivera.
The Wildcats next play at home against Telos on Wednesday at 7 p.m. They defeated Telos 75-54 on Jan. 17 in Orem.