There was a lot on the line for the six Viking basketball seniors Friday night. A chance of claiming a victory against Crown Point (DAC rivals and the team that stole away their sectional aspirations in 2015), a chance to further their journey to becoming the DAC champions, and their chance at a record - a second straight undefeated home season.
Most importantly, it was the last chance for Evan, Steve, Conner, Jack, Tony, and Barker to win in the gym where they got their start four years ago. Those chances were all worth taking, as Valpo’s 66-53 triumph gave them all that they were hoping for.
This was not an easy win for Valpo. The nearly-packed house was electric from the start. Fans and spectators kept the gym loud with “Viking Nation” ramping up overall volume. Crown Point leveled the playing field during the first half, leading up to the score a haltime score of 30-30. During halftime there were murmurs from the crowd of who they thought would pull through - the players in the green and white or the red and white. Crown Point Mayor David Uran noted that it would end up being a close one.
“It’s been a tough game, and really a tough season. It’s all going to come down to who has the better defense. That’s going to win this game,” Uran stated. “They’re both really great teams and it has showed. It’s up to who steps up within the last two quarters.”
Mayor Uran was right - the defense was strong on both teams. Shoulders were checked, knees roughed up, and baskets missed. But with Valpo’s squad racking up points during the second half, the Vikings pulled through with thirteen points over their rivals when the the clock buzzed for the last time. After the teams shook hands, the Viking players were able to celebrate with their classmates, the student section now scattered on the court and welcomed the guys with unabashed adoration.
It might have been the last time this would happen at Valparaiso High School for the 2015-2016 season, but at that moment for the players it hadn’t felt like the last celebration. Tony Kloss, one of the team's six seniors, stated that because the season is soon coming to a close, there are plenty of things to look forward to and back on.
“I’ve played with most of these guys since I’ve been five years old or so, and because of the fact that this is our last game at our home turf it is a bit bitter-sweet, but there’s still the rest of the season to look forward to,” Kloss stated. “Tonight felt really good, though, to have a undefeated season now become a tradition. We’ve had this game circled on our list for a long time. Every win is a big win, but this one meant a little bit more.”
Evan Walls agreed with Kloss, explaining that the win was more than just that.
“We have great support, a great crowd that supports us win or lose. We’ve always had those people behind us to win. Playing against that is great. The atmosphere and the crowd was the best all year, maybe even more than the past years combined.” Walls stated. “With that, one of the main things we focused on this week was revenge. Crown Point beat us during the first sectional game last year, and on top of being undefeated at home, this one meant a lot to us.”
To add to the list of records, Conner TenHove has had an incredible run in the points department, with Friday’s game pushing him well past the 800 mark for his Viking career. TenHove was humble about reaching that goal, but didn’t let the rest of the team's accomplishments be pushed aside.
“This game was a big one for every single one of us. Knowing that we contributed to [being undefeated last year] and took it home tonight means a lot to me and the other seniors - and now it’s the juniors time to pick it up for next year,” TenHove stated. “It’s the last time we’ll play in front of a crowd in this gym, but I’m sure that we’ll all still be looking forward to playing together again once the season ends.”
With records and personal accomplishments under their belts, the Vikings will take on cross-county rivals Chesterton before sectionals come around a few short weeks later. As students, parents, and family all waited for their players to come out of their locker room, it was the last time to breathe it all in before pushing forward. Tom TenHove, father of senior Conner, summed it up by explaining that this win meant the world. It’s more than justified.
“We never thought that we’d accomplish two consecutive undefeated seasons, and I’m not sure when the last time it’s been done. They really wanted this night to turn out the way it did. It means everything to these kids,” TenHove stated. “Some of them have been playing together for ages - Conner and Evan have been for seven or eight years - and to see them accomplish all of this means a lot. They deserve to end on a high note.”