Bobcats make history

By: 
Sonja Karp

The Upton High School basketball team pose for a photo after winning the 1A state championships. From left, back row: Assistant Coach Nick Johnson, Chase Mills, Ethan Schiller, Nathan Baker, Dawson Smith, Bridger Bruce, Keith Coburn, Kailer Duarte, Head Coach Joe Samuelson. From left, front row: Reece Barritt, Brayden Bruce, Jess Claycomb, Luca Brooks, Ethan Mills, and Manager Landon Keever.

 

Upton High School’s Dawson Smith gets a high five from the crowd after his team won the 1A basketball championship.

 

W

inning a state title is the stuff of dreams if you are a sports fan, and to win the first state basketball title in your school’s history is a one-in-a-million opportunity.

The Upton Bobcats lived that dream a few weeks ago, and there are 12 young men who forever will hold a place of honor in Weston 7’s sports annals, and will forever have the memory of that moment and this year.

They have become members of an elite group of athletes and did the entire community proud in the process.

The 1A State Championship run began with the Bobcats’s second contest of the season where they started their 21-0 domination of their opponents. It was only Custer, S.D., who was able to get the better of the squad in the opening game on Dec. 11, and though it was a loss for Upton, they scored more from three- and from two-point land, however the Wildcats were able to take their six-point win from the charity stripe, out-scoring them 18-5 from the line.

That would be one of only four contests throughout the year when a team shot better than the Bobcats from the free-throw stripe, and it would be their last and only loss of the season. 

The Bobcats are shooters, as evidenced by their No. 1 ranking in 1A in scoring and shooting as a team and five players claim the top five spots in 1A East in field goal percentage, the top three spots in three-point shooting percentage and three of the top four, with four of the top six in free-throw percentage. 

Shooting like that doesn’t just happen, it takes a lot of work and dedication to become accurate, so you know they earned the accolades.

The 21-1 overall record also happened as a result of a full team effort. There are a bunch of special players on the Bobcat team but also a lot of team players on the squad, which anyone can see from looking at the stats.

Throughout the season, there were six different players who led their team in scoring, four who led in rebounding and five who led in assists in individual games. When you are getting contributions from so many, it makes for a team that is tough to beat.

I had the opportunity to talk to the 1A Player of the Year, Luca Brooks, and he confirmed everything I thought those young men might be feeling having accomplished such an awesome feat. 

“When we started the season, we had the mentality that we were going to have a great season, but of course we didn’t know that we’d be bringing home a state championship,” Brooks said, smiling. “We knew we had what it took, but we couldn’t know for sure.”

Brooks admitted that he would love to go back and play that Custer game again because he believed that his team would beat them if given another chance, but at the same time, the loss lit a fire under the Bobcats and gave them all the motivation they needed to ramp things up.

I wondered if the success the team had after that first game ever put pressure on them to focus on maintaining their winning streak, but Brooks assured me that there was never any stress or worry about losing a game during the regular season because Coach of the Year Joseph Samuelson was focused on prepping his team for the post-season. 

“We didn’t get too in our heads about losing a game during the regular season because we always had our eyes on regionals and [the state tournament]. We went into every game with the mentality that we were going to win, and just never really stressed about the possibility of losing,” Brooks explained.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the squad went into the season with all the tools necessary, and all possessed the work ethic needed to bring home a state championship. They were a coach’s dream because they had the talent, the determination and dedication to make a run for the title.

That level of commitment was evident as the guys spent all summer in the gym working to build team chemistry and the new offense installed by Samuelson.

Going into the regional tournament, the Bobcats’ regular season record meant nothing because everyone goes back to zero when they are fighting for a state tournament berth. This year, the first game at regionals was crucial because a win meant they qualified for state and a loss meant the end of the season.

The Bobcats didn’t lose.

In fact, they went into the state tournament as the No. 1 seed from the east, but every team who earned a spot did so for a reason. They were all there to play.

And Brooks admitted that was when the nerves actually started to set in.

“That was when the championship became a reality for us. It was so exciting, but nothing was guaranteed, but we were so close! We got ourselves into the championship and at that point we knew we had to win. This is what we had been working for and this is what we wanted!” he said.

In the championship game, the team went to work. Brooks went to work. Vengeance for Saratoga robbing Upton of their state championship opportunity in 2020 by defeating them in the semis was at the forefront of the squad’s mind, and they tasted the sweetest of revenge by taking the title in 2021. 

“It felt amazing to win our very first championship in school history. I don’t even know what to say but that it was just the greatest feeling ever. Being part of that team was incredibly fun,” Brooks said. “We worked so hard to get where we did. Coach knew the talent we had and what we were capable of, and I just love all the guys so much. It was such a huge moment in Upton basketball history, and I can’t express how awesome it was to be a part of that moment. I’ll remember it forever.”

Congratulations Bobcats on a remarkable season!

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