CEDAR RAPIDS — Their coach knows one thing. If they go down, it won’t be without a fight.
Most people believe the Ed-Co Vikings will indeed go down Monday morning in the first game of the 2018 boys’ state basketball tournament in Des Moines. Their opponent in a Class 1A quarterfinal is second-ranked North Linn at 9:30 at Wells Fargo Arena.
The teams have played three times the past two seasons, and it hasn’t been pretty. North Linn won last season, 74-30, and this season by lopsided margins of 86-42 and 97-26.
“I guess I wouldn’t expect anything less for the next challenge,” Coach Justin Olind said, with a laugh. “These guys are just a tough group of kids mentally. They understand what it takes, are the most unselfish group that I’ve coached. We always talk about playing for the guy next to you. They embody that, they embrace it. They don’t care who scores, just as long as they all play defense together, they all work together. They just play together so well.”
The past week has been one big celebration for the towns of Edgewood and Colesburg. This is the first time the school has qualified for state, the culmination of a season in which it set a school record for most victories (21).
It definitely earned its well to The Well. Ed-Co had to win games on back-to-back nights, beating Wapsie Valley in overtime in a Class 1A district final, then edging Dunkerton the following night in a substate final.
“As I was talking to my wife today, the word that just always comes to mind is ‘amazing,’” said Olind, in his 10th year at the school. “The community has been amazing, the guys have been amazing, the school, the student body. The whole communities of Edgewood and Colesburg have just been amazing. That one word sums it up.”
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The Vikings went 15-7 last season but lost their first district game in an upset to East Buchanan. Olind said that loss was a rallying cry for his team, which returned starters Ethan Streicher, Preston Rochford and Jacob Wessel, as well as key bench guys Ben Ernst and Calvin Heims.
A 21-4 record comes with a pair of late-season losses in which Ed-Co was short-handed because of injuries. North Linn is 26-0, averages 93 points a game and is beating opponents by an average of 60.
It has two outstanding players in junior point guard Jake Hilmer, who has set Iowa’s single-season and career records for assists, and senior guard Ryan Miller. The task for Ed-Co here is very, very tall.
“The biggest thing is you cannot hand the ball over to them for points,” Olind said. “You’ve got to be ready for 32 minutes of pressure and just up-and-down basketball. A lot of people talk about how you’ve got to slow it down and control possessions, but I think that’s what they want you to do. To be conservative against them and stuff like that.
“So I think the biggest thing is we cannot just hand the ball over to them for 2-on-2s and 2-on-1s, get Hilmer out in the open court where he can make plays and have a lot of room to work. That’s the number one key thing.”
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