It’s the game of the year.
Coach Shawn Hair knows it. His team — fresh off of a frustrating loss to Lawrence Free State in McPherson — knows it.
By the start of the boys’ JV game, the gym will be filled to capacity. Every seat in the bleacher will be taken. Students will stand on each other’s feet and spend the entirety of the game on tiptoe in order to catch glimpses of the court.
The annual game against Rockhurst is a rivalry game that has spanned decades. Some of these students’ parents can still remember the Rockhurst games when they attended East. They’ve lived it — the “We’ve got girls” chants, the tense moments, the buzzer beaters and blow outs. This game is tradition.
“We’ve been working hard in practice and watching film to prepare for this talented Rockhurst team,” senior Luke Haverty said. “I’m excited to compete against these guys. We’ve grown up playing against them so it should be an intense atmosphere.”
Both teams will be relying mostly on underclassmen players. Rockhurst will be returning one senior, J.P. Decker, who averages three points per game. Haverty and senior Colin Burns provide the Lancers’ senior leadership on the court, and are supported by juniors Gunnar Englund and Lucas Jones and sophomores Joey Wentz and Jay Guastello.
“I think it should be a good game and and both teams will come out and play hard because this game means a lot to both schools,” Englund said. “Both teams have a lot of underclassmen so the game might start out a little sloppy with nerves coming into play but I think we’ll calm down and be able to play how we want to and hopefully pull out the win.”
For the Lancers, Jones and the inside game will be the main focus of the night. Jones averages over 15 points a game, and the big man has proven key in spreading out opposing defenses. Englund has also come alive in the last few games, scoring a season-high 15 points in the game against SM West.
From the outside, Wentz and Burns have proven to be formidably accurate shooters. Wentz scored the last-second three pointer to win the SM West game, and Burns received All-Tournament honors at the McPherson tournament.
In the end, Hair feels the game will come down to energy and tempo. Rockhurst is a quick team that will emphasize fast breaks and push for a faster paced game.
“The biggest keys are going to be getting back on defense, communicating as a team and not having any empty possessions,” Hair said. “We’re ready. I know we’re ready. These boys have worked hard, and we beat them last year, so we’ve got some confidence that we can do it again.”
Doors to the gym will be opened at 5 p.m. for all students with an I.D., and will stay open until the gym is filled to capacity. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. for JV and 7 p.m. for varsity, and the theme for the night is Grease Lightning. Can’t make it to the game? Watch the broadcast here.