(Editor's note: The following story can be found in the 2019 Fastbreak magazine, an annual supplement to The Jamestown Sun.)
Ellendale boys basketball shocked Region 3 last winter, fulfilling future potential ahead of schedule and maybe even surprising longtime Cardinals coach Brian Vance in the process.
The emergence of 6-foot-6 underclassman Scott Wagner, who averaged 19 points and 15.7 rebounds during the regional tournament, plus a solid team-first foundation, spurred Ellendale to a second regional title in three years after finishing the regular season at 10-9.
“Not quite so early. I was thinking this year, maybe next year,” Vance said of his team’s quick maturation. “But, you know, our chemistry last year was really good. It was just a good group of kids that got along really well.”
Wagner’s back for just his sophomore season. Vance said another summer of lifting weights and AAU basketball down in Aberdeen has served the lad well.
“I don’t think he grew anymore. But he did put on weight,” Vance said. “Last year he was still kind of a little big man, now he’s pretty solid.
"He’s very humbled with what he has received and he’s just a nice kid to be around,” Vance continued. “He’s fun in the locker room, fun in the hallways and fun in class.”
Ellendale will be looking at 6-foot-3 perimeter scoring threat Hunter Thorpe (14 ppg, 6.6 rpg) to step into more of a leadership role as a senior following the graduation of all-stater Austin Molan, who has suited up for Trinity Bible College men's basketball this winter in Ellendale. Thorpe buried 66 3-pointers in 2018-19, including three during a 16-point fourth quarter turned in during the Region 3 championship game won 58-47 over Carrington at the Jamestown Civic Center.
“He’s stepped up,” Vance said of Thorpe. “At open gyms, he’s been looking really good and he is developing that leadership role very well.”
Juniors Wyatt Henningsen (2.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg), point guard Chance Durheim (2.1 ppg) and Eric Blondo (2.1 ppg) are back in the mix, along with seniors Ian Wagner, Scott’s 6-1 older brother, and Caleb Hauck.
“Scotty’s older little brother, Ian, has looked really good this summer and Caleb is going to be fighting for our point guard position,'' Vance said. “All three juniors that we have will be fighting for playing time also.”
Vance said a couple of freshmen might also work their way onto the floor.
“Our practices are gonna be competitive this year, which is going to be nice,” Vance said. “Our varsity guys usually took it to our JV guys last year. This year it’s going to be a little bit more even and it’s going to be a fun year for us.”
Ellendale wrapped up 2018-19 with an eighth-place state tournament finish and an overall record of 15-13. Vance said a Region 3 full of surprises won’t again be out of the question.
“Oakes is going to be dynamite … Edgeley’s hungry, they’ve been close for many years … Linton,” Vance said. “I think our region is going to be wide open and it’s gonna be a battle every night that we come and play.”