Three years in a row, the Gresham Wildcats boys basketball team’s season ended in the regional final. This year, however, they advanced into sectionals, following a 57-45 home win over Phelps on Saturday.
While it’s a relief for many players to finally capture that elusive regional crown, they’re not putting any additional pressure on themselves. The group remains loose and not much has changed in the team’s attitude this week in practice as they get ready for Lena.
“You’re not going to change much at this point,” said Gresham head coach Jeff Zobeck. “Just try to make sure the guys are loose and focused. We’re not going to all of a sudden become the best rebounding team and the best defensive team in the state in one night. Just try to emphasize and put our guys in a position where they can be successful.”
Although none of these Gresham players have had sectional experience on the basketball court, coach Zobeck doesn’t believe the moment will be too big for them, as a number of players on the team have had experience making deep runs in another sport.
“You got to remember this bunch also went to the sectional finals in baseball last year, quite a few of these guys anyway,” Zobeck said. “Different sport, but the same kind of buildup, the community support, and all that kind of stuff. This is a fun, relaxed team naturally.”
Senior leader Neal Cerveny is one of five seniors on the team who have felt the heartbreak coming short of a regional title, but he says they’re experience playing in those big games in the past have prepared them for what’s to come.
“Especially these past three years, this is going to be our fourth year, that big moment we’ve all been through it, we’ve all been there,” said Cerveny. “We’ve been in the pressure, so we’re definitely ready.”
For others, getting to this point was a place they expected to reach for a while.
“It feels great because we set high expectations for ourselves,” said senior Legacy Skenadore. “Ever since we were 8th grade we dreamed of this. We dreamed of conference. We dreamed of regionals and finally to get to sectionals it’s just a great feeling.”
Looking ahead to Lena, the Wildcats are 20-5 overall, 14-4 in the M&O Conference, good for a third place finish. They’re led in scoring by Connor Heise, who averages close to 23 points per game, but have three players that average in double figures.
Although Gresham and Lena don’t see one another regularly, that’s not to say there isn’t some familiarity.
“I know Lena fairly well,” said coach Zobeck. “We’ve played them some in the summer, and granted in the summer, we’re missing guys at times and they’re missing guys a times. You can’t really tell too much from that. From what I’ve seen on tape this year, the Heise kid is a tough guard. He likes to get it to the basket. We’re going to have to have someone stick him pretty good.”
Gresham may be able to take advantage of their size against Lena, but they will need to be quick on their feet to handle some of Lena’s smaller, but quick guards.