Tigers on Top: Men’s basketball earns first state title for Cedar Falls in school history

It was as if victory swarmed the air at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines when Cedar Falls faced two time state champions, Iowa City West.

“I am proud of our guys for staying focused, for seizing the moment when opportunity presented itself, for representing our school and community well,” head coach Ryan Schultz said. “And, for truly earning it all through hard work and staying true to our brand of teamwork, toughness and accountability.

Schultz said that playing three consecutive days can be very difficult for any player to be focused, both mentally and physically, at this level.

“It’s taxing from both a mental and physical perspective.  I thought our guys were outstanding the entire tournament and truly earned this championship.”

He said that each strategy is different for every team, but their’s just so happened to help them stand out from the rest.

Their team effort and gaining rhythm right away in every quarter of every game in those three days gave each player opportunities to score.

“We were able to exploit how tight they were guarding AJ in that game to get some easy, timely baskets by using him as a screener and also running some slips due the their attention on him,” Schultz said. “All of our guys stepped up, including some crucial free throws made by Jack Campbell and Logan Wolf was phenomenal the entire tournament.”

Some of the biggest focuses going into Friday nights championship game were to be physically prepared and make sure everyone was mentally focused.

“Being physically recovered and ready as best we could,” Schultz said. “Make sure our mentality was about winning, believing and seizing the moment.  We didn’t want our guys to be satisfied with just being there.”

Co-captain and senior AJ Green said that once the team made it through Thursday night’s semi-finals that the job wasn’t finished yet.

“We didn’t want to get to the State title game,” he said. “We wanted to win it.”

When fans chanted, the bench mob roared and the final buzzer went off, Green said a feeling of relief swept over him because he said knowing that all of his hard work and all of the team’s hard work had finally paid off.

““I’m proud of AJ for always doing things the right way and handling his role as our best player within the framework of our team,” Schultz said.

Because Green is a captain and a high profile player among the community, when he walked off the court for the last time wearing a Tiger uniform, the student section chanted, “AJ Green!” and he politely gestured for them to stop.

Regarding why he did so, Green had the most humble response.

“I didn’t want them to chant my name because I didn’t win us the state title. It was every single person on the team, even the guys who don’t play much,” he said. “My teammates deserve more of the credit than I do because without them we would not have been able to get to State, let alone win State.”

The second co-captain and senior, Ben Gerdes, said that it felt amazing to win a state championship with the boys he has grown up playing with. “Winning the state championship is something we’ve all dreamed of since third grade, and to finally do it is surreal.”

He said all he focused on throughout the championship game was to keep the lead and jump on them every chance they got. “We were in the lead at the end of every quarter, so that gave us a lot of confidence as the game went on.”

The team wasn’t favored to come out on top, but that gave every player on the team motivation to beat Iowa City West again with their offense and outstanding defense.

“We have been working hard on defense all year, and we knew that in the championship game, defense mattered most. I also think a lot of our guys took it personally when we heard that people didn’t think we could beat IC West again,” Gerdes said.

Last but not least, the third co-captain and junior Logan Wolf said that no one but the players and coaching staff thought they could win a state championship, but look at where the boys ended up. “We played with a chip on our shoulder and came out with fire and energy and played as hard as we possibly could to win,” he said.

Wolf said what made the whole experience special was the group of young men he played and achieved with. “It is truly one of the best feelings in the world, and one of the best moments of my life.”

He said he looks up to every single senior that was apart of the history making team because they showed up to every practice and game with every intention of helping and making the experience worthwhile. “They were phenomenal leaders on and off the court, and we would not have accomplished any of what we did without each and every one of them.”

In mid January, the boys beat Iowa City West by one point, and the competitive energy between the teams hadn’t stopped there.

Beating the green and gold Trojans by a whopping 20 points, 65-45, the Tigers claimed their first state championship title.

“I’m also proud of all of our guys for stepping up and playing their best on the biggest stage at the right time. It’s a hard thing to do,” Schultz said. “I’m also very proud of my coaching staff. I am so thankful for all of their hard work, contributions and dedication to this program. I think I have the best staff in the state.”

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