Waverly boys basketball coach Ryan Reeder has a few things on his mind this week, but he’s still enjoying his team’s 8-1 start and their No. 2 ranking in the boys coaches poll.
Both are believed to be the best in school history for a program that has last been to the state basketball tournament in 2013 and hasn’t won a game at the tournament since 1995.
The first is preparing for road trips to Class C-1, No. 6 Wahoo (11-2) and Class B, No. 5 Platteview (12-2) on consecutive nights. The latter is figuring out if he’s going to bite the bullet on some Bills tickets in Kansas City on Sunday.
“Been a Bills fan all my life,” he joked on Tuesday afternoon. “Going to have to go down there this weekend.”
But, first things first for the Vikings.
After a delayed start due to Covid-19 protocols in Lancaster County, Reeder’s Vikings picked up with the momentum they left behind in the district final last year when they took No. 1 seeded Scottsbluff to double overtime.
“That was just a great game and trip for our program,” Reeder said. “We only started one senior last year and I think a lot of our guys thought right there that we could be a really good team coming back.
“They have just been a great bunch to coach so far. There are no egos. They are coachable. They play hard.”
And now the results are speaking for themselves, especially after a turn around 50-41 win over Norris on January 8th. The Titans had defeated Waverly in the Waverly Holiday Tournament 56-36 just nine days earlier.
The 20-point loss was a wake up call for Reeder’s team, he said.
“(Norris) just took it to us right from the start,” the coach said. “We learned real quick after that, that you can’t play soft. It could have been the best thing for us. We got locked in. The next week we had at practice was maybe the best week we have had in my five years.”
It’s paid dividends as the Vikings have added wins over Omaha Gross and Seward post-Christmas. But, now the gauntlet begins with the Thursday-Friday road trip, then the Eastern Midlands tournament where the Vikings could face Elkhorn and Norris for a third time.
Reeder relies on a nine-man rotation that includes just one senior starter, Andrew Hefflefinger, who averages 12.9 points per contest. “He really gets to the rim well for us and now he’s starting to shoot it much better,” Reeder said.
Point guard Cole Murray is second on the team in scoring at just over 10.1 points per contest with sophomore Preston Harms adding 6.9points per night.
“Cole is a kid who is like a coach on the floor and we can really just tell him what we want done and he gets our guys set up,” Reeder added. “With Preston, he’s starting to not play like a sophomore. He’s shooting about 40% from 3-point range and he made some big ones against Norris.”
Inside, the Vikings rely on “glue guys” Drew Miller and Hogan Wingrave who combine for 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a contest.
“What those guys do for us, no one notices,” Reeder said. “Big rebounds. Deflections on defense. And, they have both really improved on the simple things and are doing things we need them to do to win.”
The Waverly bench — with seniors Trey Cockerill, Tyztin Hoos, junior Riley Marsh and sophomore AJ Hefflefinger — has also improved and provided big minutes for the Vikings.
With just two home games left and a four-game road finish against three teams currently ranked, the coach said the Vikings must keep staying focused every time they hit the court.
“We just have to have daily reminders of focus,” the coach said. “We have games where we can play really good for 26-28 minutes. To be the team we want to be, it has to be for 32 minutes. And, we have to lock in. But, I think our guys are starting to realize that.”
With the grind ahead if the Vikings can survive their way to Lincoln, they should be ready to change the program history.