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La Crosse boys' squad resembles Victoria state team

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

La CROSSE - In many ways, the La Crosse High School boys' basketball team resembles the Victoria boys' squad from two seasons ago. Both teams had one standout all-state player. Both featured tremendous athleticism. Both teams were strong defensively, but struggled to score and took some tough losses early on.

Both teams had a long drought between state appearances.

The Victoria boys eventually qualified for state for the first time in two decades and, as a No. 8 seed, earned a fourth-place finish in Class 1A Division I. La Crosse has more than a month left before sub-state, but has the tools to possibly enjoy a Victoria-esque run.

"I think they still have some stuff to work on as far as going to the right position, and the kids understanding their roles, and you look across their board, they are athletic, they are good," Otis-Bison coach Bryant Briggs said. "They create matchup problems because they are tall."

La Crosse has started 4-6, but is 0-4 when it scores under 40 points. After a strong 65-36 home victory against Rush County rival Otis-Bison last Friday, the Leopards fell 44-34 to Minneapolis on Tuesday. The Leopards made a season-low 10 shots and have averaged 46 points a contest.

"When we make baskets, we are tough," La Crosse coach Rob Holopirek said. "That's been our whole struggle with scoring. We have defended well. It comes down to whether we can put the ball in the basket or not. We usually can get to spots that give us good looks. It's just putting those baskets in."

La Crosse has enjoyed strong success in football and track, including double-digit win seasons in football six of the last seven years and a Class 1A state championship in track last spring.

"We do have good athletes," Holopirek said. "Our weight training in the summer is excellent. The kids put a lot of time in. They work their tails off, so you've got to give them a lot of credit. Then, of course, we've got just some natural ability along with that, and that always helps. You would rather have it that way than the other."

Senior Kip Keeley, like Victoria's Kameron Dinkel two years ago, is the focal point. He averages 20.3 points, nine rebounds and 2.8 assists, all team-bests.

"Keeley, he gets the ball down low, he is a big solid kid, he is going to score," Briggs said.

Keeley, an all-state football player, has double figures in every contest except one, including 35 points versus WaKeeney-Trego Community on Dec. 4.

"Since Day 1 in high school, he has been a kid that we knew that could score," Holopirek said. "Everybody knows about him on the football field, but he is a darn good basketball player. He gets banged on and beat on a lot down in the post and all his drives and he just keeps battling through it."

La Crosse has several strong supporting players, including juniors Lucas Moeder, Marshall Jay, Taylor Yohe and senior William Storie. No one else averages more than 7.5 points per contest. Moeder has bounced back from a knee injury that cost him all of last season.

"A lot of learning," Moeder said. "Pretty much it. I'm way behind. Coach always kind of preaches that never be satisfied."

But Moeder (5.5 rebounds), Yohe (5.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists), Jay (4.6 rebounds) and Storie (1.7 assists) help in other ways.

"We've been on (with Jay) about being aggressive," Holopirek said.

"He has the talent. He can do it. (Against Otis), the switch kind of flipped and he attacked and was aggressive with it. Taylor Yohe, same thing. Lucas, he is a year behind these guys, because he had injuries and things like that, but what we are getting out of him is just icing on the cake. I have been so happy with him. I didn't know where he would be at."