It's safe to assume not many expected Jamestown High School to be strolling into this weekend's state Class A boys basketball tournament in Fargo.
But after winning just two games the previous season, first-year head coach Jacoby Lloyd found success with a talented flock of young Blue Jays fast. Jamestown will play West Fargo tonight at 8 p.m. in the program's third appearance at state since 2001.
"Our sophomores are playing like juniors, our juniors are playing like seniors and the seniors play like leaders on the team," Lloyd said. "We've really grown in our roles and people have started to recognize what we need to accomplish on the court."
Jamestown got off to a rocky start—losing four of its first five—but later rebounded with victories over Valley City and Fargo North heading into the new year. The Jays kept pace with the top teams in the West Region for the most part the rest of the way, they just needed to get their feet wet.
"When you look down the stretch, we lost five of our last seven games," Lloyd said. "But besides the game at Century and Minot they were all very close games and good learning experiences for our team down the stretch."
Jamestown came out firing against Mandan at last week's West Region tournament in Bismarck after a prior loss to the Braves in the regular-season finale.
After leading for nearly the entire contest, sophomore Boden Skunberg buried the game-winning 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds to lift the Blue Jays to a 70-67 upset victory. But it was a true team effort.
Jamestown's Jared Kallenbach (18 points) and John Horgan (15) each topped double figures in scoring. Skunberg (14) and junior Mason Walters (13) combined for 27 more.
"If we can get a third or fourth scorer getting into double figures like we did against Mandan, it really creates balance and you couldn't cover just one or two guys," Lloyd said.
Offense takes shape
Horgan led the Blue Jays last season averaging 13.8 points a game, but the senior has voluntarily taken a backseat with the success of the underclassmen.
The offensive balance this winter has paid dividends. Horgan is averaging 8.4 markers per night to Walters' 16.3 and Skunberg's 14.
"Mason and Boden are very good players so it's taken a little more off me," Horgan said. "When I was younger I was always the one scoring 20 a game and now I have these guys and I don't have as much pressure to shoot the ball."
Walters and Skunberg have each dropped 20-plus five times this season. Skunberg erupted for 35 en route to topping St. Mary's in the West Region tournament semifinals.
"We just got to work together and keep sending screens to each other," Walters said. "They have to focus on both of us."
Kallenbach and junior Dawson Douty have also each led the team in scoring this season, dropping 18 points and 20 points, respectively.
"We've got more than two basketball players on this team and hopefully all 10 that get on the court produce for us," Lloyd said.
Prepping for Pack
The Blue Jays turned their attention to the East Region's West Fargo Packers this week in practice.
West Fargo is led by the East's leading-scorer Joe Pistorius (22.5 ppg). Luke Lennon (14.5) and Abdi Sufi (14.4) are ninth and 10th in scoring, respectively.
Lennon is second in the EDC with 11.6 rebounds per game and Sufi is third with 8.6.
"They're really athletic so we're going to have to try to grind out possessions on our offensive end," Lloyd said. "Make them play defense for 30 seconds on each possession to slow down their transition looks and hopefully wear them out down the stretch."
No matter how this weekend's games turn out, the future looks bright for the Blue Jays.
"They've always had a growth mentality of getting better from every game, every practice and everything along the road of a season," said coach Lloyd. "These guys have played so hard throughout the whole year and having a 12-12 record doesn't show how good we've actually become.
"I'm extremely proud of the work they've put in."
State basketball tournament
Sanford Health Athletic Complex
G1: W1 Bismarck Century (22-2) vs. E4 Grand Forks Red River (10-15), 2 p.m.
G2: E2 Shanley (16-8) vs. W3 Mandan (20-4), 4 p.m.
G3: E1 West Fargo-Sheyenne (20-4) vs. W4 Bismarck St. Mary's (9-16), 6 p.m.
G4: W2 Jamestown (12-12) vs. E3 West Fargo (21-3), 8 p.m.