Band of brothers
STATE CENTER – The final buzzer sounded, fans and parents streamed onto the floor, and Trenton Keislar briefly turned away from a few members of his family to look over at the rest spread across the court.
They were draped in smiles, sweat and white jerseys with black and gold trim. Keislar couldn’t help but call all 14 of them one of his own.
“They’re all like brothers to me – every single one of them – from the starting five to the very last bench player,” Keislar said of his teammates just moments after the Trojans wrapped up the school’s first state tournament berth since 2009 with a 55-52 win over Des Moines Christian Monday.
The tight-knit bonds and cohesive chemistry that have propelled this season’s West Marshall boys’ basketball team will spread to the stands of Wells Fargo Arena Tuesday when teammates of seasons past turn out to show their support.
And in the case of Keislar and fellow senior Duncan Ferch, that brotherhood extends a step further – by blood.
Both of them own ties to West Marshall’s last two trips to the Class 2A Iowa Boys State Basketball Tournament, where Taylor Keislar, Drake and Dalton Ferch took the floor for the Trojans.
The 2008 and 2009 appearances each ended with opening-round losses to Western Christian, but they didn’t go unnoticed in setting a standard for the future of the program.
“They were an amazing team. Drake, Taylor and Dalton – all those guys, they’re just great athletes all around,” Keislar said. “I think we have roughly the same thing on our team.”
Keislar, who jumped from the JV squad as a junior to a varsity starter in his final season, has heeded the advice of his elder on the opportunity at hand.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Keislar said, sharing the words of Taylor. “Just being down there, the environment is ecstatic. He was lost for words when he found out I made it. I know Taylor will be down there and hopefully some other players.”
Drake and Dalton Ferch didn’t need word of the Trojans’ return to state – they were watching the excitement unfold first-hand in the Johnston High School stands as Duncan and his teammates upset the fourth-ranked Lions.
It was the same site – and opponent – where Drake, Dalton and Taylor were denied a third straight bid to state four years ago, making the Substate 7 final victory even sweeter.
“Their last game together they lost to Des Moines Christian, so it was nice to get them back,” Duncan Ferch said. “It was just fun to watch our brothers play together.”
Now the roles have reversed, though the location and excitement remain the same.
While the stakes rise and the pressure heightens, Drake and Dalton have advised Duncan to approach the Trojans’ 25th game much like the 24 that preceded it.
“Just treat it like another game, go out there and play,” Duncan recalled.
Boasting nine seniors overall – including their entire starting five – the Trojans have the look of a tournament-tested unit, even if it’s the school’s first state berth in five years.
And when they tangle with third-ranked West Fork (23-1) in a quarterfinal contest Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., West Marshall (20-4) will draw from the same composure they displayed against the Lions in their last outing.
“Our senior leadership has helped a lot,” Ferch said. “We were up by 10 and then we got down by one in the fourth. We never panicked, we never got worried. We just stayed steady.”
West Marshall coach Paul deNeui has employed that same steady demeanor and regimen in the practices leading up to Tuesday. While it’s not uncommon for teams to move to larger gyms in hopes of simulating the wide-open backdrop of Wells Fargo Arena, deNeui has preached consistency for his club – and continued their tried-and-true regimen in State Center.
“Normalcy is the best thing for us,” said deNeui, who was an assistant to Dave Shipley in the Trojans’ last two treks to Des Moines. “You never know when you’re going to get there again so we’ve talked about enjoying the moment.”
And if all goes according to plan, the Trojans will get plenty used to the bigger backdrop and atmosphere awaiting them in the Well.
“We’re not done,” deNeui said. “We want to focus and go down there and have a week instead of just a day.”
Ferch noted the Trojans picked up some good experience playing in a larger gym when they defeated Hudson at Wartburg College in January. … Drake Ferch and Taylor Keislar played in the 2008 quarterfinal, while Drake, Dalton and Taylor all took the floor in the 2009 quarterfinal. Freshman reserve David Disney also has a sibling, Joe Disney, who played on the 2008 and 2009 state tourney squads. Western Christian claimed the state championship in 2008.