'It’s humbling and fun:' Wapahani boys' basketball prepares for 2A State Finals

Senior Isaac Andrews possesses the ball against Monroe Central Feb. 9 at Monroe Central High School. Andrew Berger, DN
Senior Isaac Andrews possesses the ball against Monroe Central Feb. 9 at Monroe Central High School. Andrew Berger, DN

Editor’s Note: Co-sports editor Kyle Smedley is working on a project for Wapahani athletics. However, his coverage is not affiliated with the Ball State Daily News nor will he be editing any story written by the Daily News about the 2A state championship game. 

In 2006, Muncie Central was the last Delaware County high school boys’ basketball team to advance to the IHSAA State Finals. A representative of the 765 hasn’t won the event since the Delta Eagles took home the hardware in 2001. 

At approximately 12:45 on Saturday, March 30, the Wapahani Raiders (26-2) will attempt to become the newest area team to win the title, which would be the program’s first. 

“It’s humbling and fun,” Wapahani head coach Matt Luce said. “Just remembering how lucky we are to still be playing and how lucky we are to have [this time] to enjoy our special team.” 

Due to the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament being held at Gainbridge Fieldhouse – the site of the game – in Indianapolis, the four championship games were moved back a week. With that, both Wapahani and their opponent, Brownstown Central, have not played a game in two weeks. 

This past week was also the Raider’s spring break, which meant different practice times for the red and white. 

“I still think everyone is locked in and excited,” senior Isaac Andrews said. “We get to sleep in a little bit since we have 11 a.m. practices.”

Even though the community has rallied behind this team all year, in the past few weeks, the support only grew as a result of a tornado that hit Selma on March 14. With that, there might be added pressure on the team to bring home the hardware. But the squad has embraced that added element, and is excited to have the chance to do something big for their fans.

While some Selma residents were forced to evaluate damage and dig through debris, that did not stop them from showing up for their Raiders. Dinners and events have been held for the team ever since defeating Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian in the semi-state championship game. 

“It went from a very sad and brutal storm on Thursday night to a very exciting two [semi-state] victories at Lafayette Jefferson [High School],” Luce said. “And now here we are celebrating our guys having the opportunity to bring our community together to show off on the big court in Indy.” 

The Braves (27-4) come into the contest with the same goal as Wapahani; to win their school’s first state championship. While they made appearances in the finale in 2004 and 2009, the end results were not in their favor. Led by senior and Purdue commit Jack Benter, the Raiders’ opponent is no stranger to the basket as they have eclipsed 80 points six times and scored over 90 twice. 

Another obstacle or a ‘tall task’, quite literally, is ahead for Wapahani with a multitude of players surpassing the six foot mark, Benter being just one of them at 6 '9. This height disparity is nothing new for the Raiders as they faced a similar difference in their semi-state matchup with Fort Wayne Blackhawk-Christian.

Luce dribbles 1.jpg
Wapahani junior Nate Luce dribbles Feb. 17 during the Raiders game against Daleville at Daleville High School. Zach Carter, DN.

Preparation is always a key element, but it’s hard to replicate in practice the height they will face. But no matter the physical barriers the Braves present, the preparation from every man on the Raider squad, down to the last man on the bench is crucial, and even more so with such high stakes.

“Our younger guys, every week, they not only have to prepare themselves but also have to prepare as the other team,” Luce said. “It’s all of our guys pulling together to play their role, whether it be Nate Luce playing the guard spot or Layton Spence playing as Jack Benter in practice.”

With all of the buildup, and anticipation that comes with making it to the big stage at state finals it can be a very exciting time. However, Luce knows that there is a balance to be had between the excitement and the nerves when it comes to being prepared.

“I think it’s a huge balancing issue,” Luce said. “You want to celebrate your team, but at the same time, we’re still one game away from winning a state championship. We’re just trying to stay focused but also enjoy the moment.” 

It could be hard to maintain that focus under the bright lights of Gainbridge Fieldhouse, but all year the team has had the motto ‘just breathe’ in which they have worn on their warmup shirts. They’ve carried that mentality into every game this season, but on the biggest stage, they know it will be crucial.

Whenever we come out of the huddle and on the court we take a deep breath, enjoy the moment and just play our game,” Andrews said. 

No matter the end result of the game, it will be the last one of the season for the Raiders. But for the four seniors on the squad – Andrews, Nick Cook, Mason Barton, and Braisen Rainwaters – it will be the last time they put on a Wapahani jersey.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Barton said. “I’ve been thinking about how we only have a couple more practices in this gym and how I’m only going to get to walk out on the court one more time with these guys. It’s a lot to take in but [that moment] is going to be great.”

Contact Zach Carter with comments at zachary.carter@bsu.edu or on X @ZachCarter85Contact David Moore with comments at david.moore@bsu.edu or on X @gingninj63


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