LARAMIE — The Rock River girls basketball program is beginning to become one of the perennial participants in the Class 1A state basketball tournament, qualifying for state for the third straight season last weekend.
The Rock River boys would love to get to that point as well. Qualifying for the first time in 47 years is a start.
Both the Longhorns and Lady Longhorns will be playing in the same state tournament this weekend in Casper for the first time in school history.
It’s a heady accomplishment for the smallest school in the state with high school basketball.
“Just because we are the smallest, that doesn’t matter,” Lady Longhorns coach Terrance Reese said. “We talk a lot about mindset out here at Rock River. This means the kids are actually believing what we’re talking about.
“They buy into working hard and playing the game the right way. For our programs it means we’re doing things the right way. That’s what it shows overall.”
Both teams had to qualify the hard way during the 1A East Regional in Douglas.
The Lady Longhorns (17-7) were seeded first from the Southeast for the regional, but lost 35-33 to Kaycee in the semifinals. That meant a winner-take-all state play-in game with Hanna-Elk Mountain, a game Rock River won 37-30. The Lady Longhorns then beat Guernsey-Sunrise 34-22 for third place.
The Longhorns (6-18) were the second seed from the Southeast, and like the girls, lost to Kaycee 73-33 in the semifinals.
With the pressure of being the first Rock River boys team to qualify for state in nearly five decades, the Longhorns routed NSI Academy 64-40.
“Offensively and defensively it was one of our best games,” first-year Longhorns coach Jeff Torbert said. “The kids came back Saturday and played their hearts out. I haven’t seen this team that happy all year and that was the time to be happy.”
The Lady Longhorns also know something about snapping long streaks.
Last season the Rock River girls won a game at the state tournament for the first time in school history.
The goal this season is to again be playing on Saturday.
The Lady Longhorns only have seven players listed on the varsity roster so playing time isn’t an issue Reese said with a laugh.
Rock River is led by 6-foot sophomore Lydia Moore at 14.0 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. Moore also averages 2.8 blocks and 1.9 steals a game.
Six-two junior foreign exchange student Emma Lysholm-Sander has been a big addition to the team and averages 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds.
“We heard we were getting an exchange student, but we didn’t know what she’d give us for our team,”
Reese said. “Her energy is just infectious for us every day. She has the best attitude and she’s really helped our team.”
Junior 5-8 guard Taylor Broyles is third in the team in scoring (9.6 points) and first in assists (5.0) and steals (4.0).
The Lady Longhorns won’t have long to wait for their opening-round game at state. Rock River opens the tournament at 9 a.m. today at Casper Events Center against Encampment, the No. 2 seed from the West. It’s not an easy draw, with Encampment ranked No. 1 or 2 most of the season.
“Playing against the defending state champions is a tough task,” Reese said. “But we have seen them a couple times so we know what to expect from them. It’s about us and how we play the game. If we follow our game plan and execute, we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”
The Longhorns started the season with a new coach and a roster than only include four upperclassmen.
But Torbert was able to quickly get on the same page with seniors Chase Hargrow, Jacob Moore and Tony Flores and junior Tristan Bunce.
It’s just the record didn’t indicate it.
Playing what Torbert called arguably the most difficult schedule of any Class 1A boys team this season that included third-ranked Kaycee twice, fourth-ranked St. Stephens and fifth-ranked Encampment three times, the Longhorns took their lumps.
“We’ve played some of the elite teams in the state multiple times and that contributed to the losses,” Torbert said. “But I told the team that we were getting better each time and you could see that. The work we’re putting in now will make you competitive the end of the year.”
Bunce has been the catalyst for the team this season. The 6-2 forward averages 18.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
He scored 38 points in the state qualifying win over NSI and added 41 points in the third-place game loss to Hulett.
Hargrow is next in scoring at 7.2 points while Moore averages 5.3.
The Longhorns won’t have it easy in their first state tournament game since 1971. Rock River plays top-ranked Burlington at 1:30 p.m. today at the Events Center.
“Burlington’s arguably the best team in the state,” Torbert said. “We’re going to have to make them play our game and slow them way down. They’re an extremely fast-paced team.”
One thing the Longhorns know is they’ll have the entire school and town of Rock River cheering for them, as will the girls.
“It’s a big thing and a good thing to start at Rock River,” Broyles said of both teams qualifying for state. “It’s a good thing to start up. The boys haven’t gone in while and it’s great to see them go to state, too.
“Having them go to state with us will be great for the school.”