Area high school feature: A big turnaround
Kilen Flanagan can appreciate the good times currently surrounding the Valley-Edinburg boys basketball team better than a lot of people. That's because he and several of his teammates have also been through the bad times. "I love sports,'' Flanag...
Kilen Flanagan can appreciate the good times currently surrounding the Valley-Edinburg boys basketball team better than a lot of people.
That's because he and several of his teammates have also been through the bad times.
"I love sports,'' Flanagan said. "Even when it was a struggle, I loved playing. My teammates feel the same way. We love to compete.
"But this is way better now.''
Flanagan, a junior, is a starting guard on a Valley-Edinburg team that opened the season with nine wins in its first 10 games. It's a rags-to-riches story for several of the Titans basketball players.
n In the 2008 football season, Flanagan and classmates Blake Laxdal and Jeremy Ulvog played on an Adams-Edinburg-Edmore football team that went 0-8. That team ended the season with only 13 players on the roster, low numbers that resulted in the program folding. The Edinburg athletes played with Park River/Fordville-Lankin in a co-op in 2009 before joining Drayton-St. Thomas-Valley last fall.
n Several basketball players are in their third varsity season. The Titans combined for eight wins over the past two seasons, going 2-19 in 2008-09 and 6-15 last season.
"I told the kids at the end of last season, 'Look, we can go 6-15 again next year, or we can get in the gym, work at it and get better,' '' Valley-Edinburg basketball coach Cory Laxdal said. "They put in a lot of time in the gym and it's paying dividends.
"Honestly, I didn't see us starting 9-1. I thought we could have six or seven wins by now. We've had some close games, and we've found ways to win. These kids are working their butts off. They've had some success; they're enjoying it and they're working to keep it up.''
The Titans' lone loss was by 85-44 to unbeaten, top-ranked North Star. Four of their first nine wins were by eight or fewer points, including a 58-56 win against then unbeaten and third-ranked Cavalier.
Thomas Shephard leads the way. The senior, who recently scored the 1,000th point of his career, averages 19.6 points. After that, it is balance -- Blake Laxdal averages 9.8 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds, Andrew Evenson is at 8.4 points and Landon Fedje 7.0 points a game. Flanagan has a team-best 5 assists per game to go with his 6.6 scoring average.
Cory Laxdal said the hardest part of the struggles of the past few years was the demise of the football program, which he also coached.
"We had a run of so many good years in football,'' the coach said. "We were in the playoffs almost every year for a long time. But all of a sudden, boom, we ran out of kids. We had freshmen playing against juniors and seniors. It was tough on them, trying to compete with older kids.
"The one thing we saw with basketball was that these kids had good, competitive teams when they were younger. We saw a good future. We were young the last few years, but with good athletes who were willing to work.''
The Titans reacted to the defeats in a positive, rather than a negative, manner.
"It was pretty hard when we didn't get the wins,'' Flanagan said. "But we kept playing hard and kept our will to do well up. That was tough sometimes, especially when you keep losing. We knew we had a long way to go.
"We were young the last couple of years. Now that's no excuse. We're not rookies any more. We have the experience. We've learned to work together as a team.''
Laxdal says he never hears his players talk of the past struggles in football and basketball. But he suspects those struggles have helped in the building process toward this winter's success.
"Sports are a learning process,'' the Titans coach said. "It took awhile. And this is a talented group of athletes. We didn't want to keep having those losing records.''
DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .