BIG HORN — Every season, Big Horn High School athletes set goals. Regardless of the sport, the Rams discuss more immediate and long-term dreams they want to reach.
The exercise helps set the tone for what the team hopes to accomplish and gives it something to work toward.
“Before the season even starts, we always make sure that we all know where we want to be at the end,” senior Kade VanDyken said.
For this year’s Big Horn basketball team, the players hope to hold a state championship trophy. The Rams haven’t brought home a basketball title in eight years, but the five seniors on this year’s team are familiar with hardware. Big Horn raised state trophies in football two of the past three seasons, and several of the best players on the gridiron also make up integral parts of this year’s basketball team.
Big Horn basketball head coach Mike Daley served as a football assistant coach this year and knows firsthand the ability and work ethic the athletes possess.
“This is a very goal-oriented group of kids,” Daley said.
The players aim to raise state banners for football and basketball in the span of four months, something that has only happened once in school history. Big Horn was the last team standing for football in 1985 and basketball in 1986, and this year’s group hopes to do the same.
“That tends to be our goal every year, just trying to get a state championship regardless of what sport it is,” senior Kade Eisele said.
It is a difficult, but not impossible, task for the Rams, who stand at 7-2 and are ranked fourth in 2A, having won four consecutive contests. Big Horn soundly defeated No. 5 Glenrock 67-42 on Dec. 21 after falling just short to the Herders on Dec. 8 by a score of 47-41. The Rams also had a competitive loss to No. 3 Wyoming Indian last month, falling 63-52.
Big Horn begins its 2019 competition Saturday at Tongue River before hosting Moorcroft Jan. 18 to begin conference play in the 2A Northeast quadrant. The Rams will likely compete for first place in the quadrant with No. 2 Wright, providing a good indicator of Big Horn’s ability to hang with one of the state’s top squads.
The basketball team ended one game short of state last year but qualified the two previous years. Eisele and VanDyken are the only seniors with state experience, but nearly all of the players saw significant minutes on last season’s team that didn’t feature any seniors.
“We all have that game-time experience, which you can’t simulate in practice,” Eisele said.
The team has five seniors: Eisele, VanDyken, Ryan Johnson, Jaxon Parker and Seth Mullinax, all of whom played key roles on the undefeated football team.
With a few players battling injury or illness, Johnson will likely see more playing time in the next few weeks. He didn’t play last season but has brought versatility off the bench this year.
Johnson played on the line in football and enjoys the fact that he can put points on the board in basketball within a group system.
“I just like the fast tempo of it and how it can be so individualized, but ultimately it’s a team sport in the end,” Johnson said.
Parker and Johnson were both lineman and said footwork is a transferable skill between the sports, but the tangible similarities mostly end there. However, they said mental toughness and effort are the most important aspects that carry over from the field to the court. Fittingly, the basketball team emphasizes those areas with a motto of “MTXE,” an abbreviation for mental toughness and extra effort. The players know what they are capable of in those departments based on what they did this past football season.
“Effort is something that you can control,” Parker said. “It’s your choice to give full effort and that’s something that we’re always trying to stress in football and basketball.”
The gridiron and hardwood state championship combination has only happened once before in school history, but with lofty goals in mind, this year’s group hopes to be the second to accomplish the rare feat.