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SHERIDAN — Twenty chairs line the Sheridan Broncs sideline. Twelve players and five coaches pack into the seats. Squeeze in a manager or two, and the Sheridan bench quickly reaches capacity.
Luckily for head coach Jeff Martini and his 2016-17 boys basketball team, max capacity is a brief, if not rare occurrence.
The team’s motto is plastered about the SHS gymnasium. Daily practice schedules, shoot-around routines, game plans — you’d be hard-pressed to skim over the motto.
The term is shouted in pre-practice huddles, postgame huddles, huddles during timeouts. Even as the Broncs run through drills in preparation for this weekend’s state tournament, Martini belts out reminders to his players.
For Martini, the two-word phrase couldn’t be more effective.
“One of the things I really wanted to stress this year is just lock in to our season, really get involved,” the first-year Broncs coach said after Tuesday’s practice. “Stay with us throughout the whole time. Things might not always go perfect for us, but if you believe in us and what we’re doing, it’s going to go well.”
The Sheridan roster is full of familiar names and faces.
Drew Boedecker, the team’s second-leading scorer, quarterbacked the Broncs football team to a state title in November. Right beside him was Wyoming football Gatorade Player of the Year Coy Steel, who runs point for the SHS basketball team.
Parker Christensen worked in the backfield with Boedecker as the Broncs’ running back, and this winter he’s leading Sheridan in scoring on the hardwood. Tyler Larsen and Aaron Sessions will don shin guards with the Sheridan soccer team a week from now.
But the last four months have been all about one thing: basketball. And at the start, the transition was a shaky one.
The Broncs opened the season with a win over the Evanston Red Devils, the same team they’ll battle in the opening round of the state tournament. But Sheridan only won one game over its next seven and entered the conference season with just a 4-7 record.
“We were kind of taking baby steps at the beginning of the year,” Martini said. “Trying to put our offense in, our defense in. As we go back and look at our first game that we played this year, we’re like two totally different teams.”
As Martini mentioned, it came down to his team fully committing to the process and, more importantly, to each other.
That’s why the Broncs don’t need all those chairs on the sideline.
Martini and his staff are constantly shuffling guys on and off the floor. A quick blow and swig of water leads to a jog back to the scorer’s table, where another shift of players repeats the process.
There isn’t a leading scorer on the Broncs. OK, there technically is.
Christensen is two-tenths higher than Boedecker. But Boedecker’s actually scored more total points this season. Neither player averages more than 11 points per game, and four Broncs average more than 9. Four more average at least four rebounds.
Not one player on Sheridan’s roster sits higher than third in any 4A statistical category — Steel at 2.3 steals per game. Only five times does a Sheridan player rank in the top 10.
Yet, here the Broncs are, coming off a 7-3 conference season, tight losses to Gillette the only things keeping Sheridan from conference regular season and tournament titles. The Broncs will take the East’s second seed into the state tournament.
“Someone’s always going to step up,” Boedecker said. “Someone’s always going to pick up someone else. It’s just a great feeling having someone else there for you.”
Sheridan lost some key players from last year’s squad, but Boedecker said the biggest driver in success during the 2016-17 season came from that shift in mindset — the “lock-in” mentality.
The Broncs failed to qualify for the state tournament a year ago, and the postseason inexperience left a lot of questions unanswered heading into this season. Sheridan’s team is made up of four seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
“We’ve got athletes all over the court,” Boedecker said. “We had them last year, but the difference is just the mentality that we’re coming in with this year.”
Christensen, one of the team’s two sophomores, gave credit to his teammates, specifically the upperclassmen, for making the commitment to each other an easy one.
“I just know they’re going to keep me going,” he said. “They’re going to hold me accountable for what I’ve got to produce. I just know that we’ve got guys coming off the bench that are going to go just as hard as we are.”
The Sheridan Broncs haven’t won a boys basketball state championship in 14 years. Since the 2003 title, they’ve missed out on state tournaments more times than they’ve qualified.
Sheridan’s 12-11 overall record won’t turn any heads, but Martini and his eclectic mix of players don’t mind.
“Everybody’s going to play as hard as they can, and they’re going to leave it all out there these last three games of the season,” Boedeker said.
“After losing five games straight, six games straight or whatever it was, the kids could have kind of bailed out and started thinking about the other things they’re doing,” Martini said. “But they really bought in this season and did a great job, and I feel fortunate for that.”
Martini added that the Broncs feel they still have plenty left to prove. Sheridan was ranked fourth in the wyopreps.com preseason rankings, and after falling out of the top five early on, their climb only got them back in the No. 4 spot heading into the state tournament.
But Sheridan wasn’t even in this position a year ago, and as the team has done all year, it plans on taking full advantage.
They’re locked in.
“We’re just trying to go 1-0,” Martini said. “Then we’ll go 1-0 again and hopefully 1-0 one more time. But all we’re focused on right now is that first game.
“They’re ready. They’ve accepted the challenge.”
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