De Smet Jesuit will meet Vianney in Class 5 boys state basketball semifinals
By: Warren Mayes
Last season was not up to standards for De Smet Jesuit but it lit the fuse in this year’s Spartans.
“Last year we never put the pieces together,” De Smet coach Kevin Poelker said. “That frustration really fueled us in the offseason. We put in more time and more energy. That was really big with us starting the season, setting the tone of sacrificing for the sake of the team.”
The hard work paid off with a trip to Columbia.
The Spartans (24-6) will play Vianney (22-8) at 3:20 p.m. Friday (March 15) in a Class 5 semifinal game at Mizzou Arena. On the other side the bracket, Columbia Hickman (26-2) faces Rockhurst (24-5) at 5 p.m.
De Smet advanced with an 81-46 victory over Jackson in the quarterfinals. Vianney slipped past McCluer North 49-46.
Including this season, De Smet has made 14 Final Four appearances. The last one came in 2002. The Spartans have earned five state titles. The last one was in 1999.
“There’s a great tradition here at De Smet and we want to do what we can to continue that tradition,” Poelker said. “We’re really proud to be a part of that and add to it. Any time you have practices in March, you’re in a good place.”
De Smet is hot and riding a 10-game winning streak.. The Spartans are 17-4 since 6-foot-8 senior forward Nolan Berry, who will play at Butler, returned to the line. He sustained fractures in both arms in a freak fall during a preseason practice.
“I missed 12 games with two broken arms,” Berry said. “It’s been a transition to come back from that. It was a little hard to get back in rhythm with the guys after sitting for so long. It was frustrating to sit and watch. But it feels right now.”
Senior point guard Jimmy Barton agreed.
“This is awesome. It’s an honor to go to state,” Barton said. “It’s been my dream my whole life. I’ve been down there to watch. The Mizzou Arena is really nice. It should be fun.”
Along with 6-6 senior forward Alec Bausch, the Spartans boast size and experience.
“With seven seniors and two of them four-year varsity players (Berry and Barton) and Alec Bausch who is a three-year varsity player, that helps us,” Poelker said. “That’s a lot of time in the gym with each other. To be able to make this trip to state with those guys who have put some much time and effort into the chemistry of this team led by those seniors will make this a neat experience.”
Playing together for so long means they all know each other well. They know what the other does well and try to help him do that.
“Their willingness to share the ball is important to our success,” Poekler said. “In the end, they find a way to win. We’ve got a lot of guys who can score and they’re willing to give the ball to the open guy.
“We’re willing to make that extra pass. That makes us really, really difficult to guard. Our chemistry on and off the court and their ability to share the basketball is really good for us. They’re focused on the task at hand. Everyone puts the team first.”
Berry said his teammates all get along.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors. We’ve got good chemistry on this team,” Berry said. “We came in focused this year. We knew what we needed to do and we were able to do it.”
Now, it’s time to play.
The Spartans are familiar with their Final Four foe. The Griffons are fellow members of the Metro Catholic Conference.
“Yeah, here we are with Vianney,” Poelker said. “They’re really well-coached and they play really hard. Our focus is to stay on script and do our best to play as a team.”
De Smet defeated Vianney twice during the regular season. That doesn’t matter, Poelker said.
“Everything previous is thrown out the window,” Poelker said. “This is the state semifinals. It will be a dogfight. We know that.”
Barton pointed out it’s hard to face a team three times in one season.
“We’ve played Vianney twice and we beat them both times,” Barton said. “They’re a good team. We know that. We’re going to have to be ready to play.”
Poelker is anxious to see how is Spartans will play.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my guys,” Poelker said. “To be playing this well at the end of the year is really important. They’ve put the pieces together at the right time. We play together and that’s a real strength for us.”