Eagles aren't denied this time
By Greg DeVillers, Herald Staff Writer
The big show had barely eluded Paul Meyer and his North Border teammates so many times that they were beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen for them.
In both the 2004-05 and 2005-06 boys basketball seasons, the Eagles finished one win shy of the Class B state tournament, losing both times to Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg in the Region 2 final.
In the 2005 state football playoffs, eventual state champion Velva-Sawyer broke up a pass in the end zone late in the game to edge the Eagles 20-14 in the quarterfinal round.
The close calls have ended, however. North Border is going to the state Class B boys basketball tournament, which begins Thursday in Bismarck. The Eagles rallied to edge Midway-Minto 58-56 in overtime last week in the Region 2 final.
"It was starting to wear on us," Meyer said of the close calls. "You think about it a lot, not wanting the same thing to happen again.
"It's nice to make it to the state tournament before graduating. After what we've been through in the past, it makes it a lot more satisfying."
To Eagles coach Cooter Symington, the state berth isn't a surprise.
"We felt this group was one that had a good chance of getting us back to state," said Symington, who coached the North Border team that won the 2001 state championship. "We have some size and some nice shooters. And it's a real good bunch of kids, one of the hardest-working groups I've coached."
Balance and size
Unlike last season, there isn't a dominant scorer in the Eagles' lineup.
Zach Winkler, a senior on last season's team, averaged 20 points a game. But no other Eagle averaged more than seven points. In contrast, balance is the style this season. The starting unit consists of Tanner Carpenter (12.7 ppg), Michael Mathison (11.4 ppg), Dustyn Chale (10 ppg), Nick Chaput (9.8 ppg) and Meyer (9 ppg).
"Last year, if Zach struggled, there wasn't anybody else who could step up," said Carpenter, the team's point guard. "This year, it seems like it's different guys every game doing the scoring. Defenses can't key on any one person.
"It's good (for a point guard). I can get it to anybody who's open and they can hit the shot."
The offense with its balance is similar to the 2001 North Border state championship team. Where the teams vary is in size these Eagles can go with the 6-foot-4 Meyer and 6-10 Mathison, with 6-4 Nick Smith coming off the bench. All three average more than eight rebounds per game; Smith and Mathison both average two blocks.
"We have some size," Meyer said. "We can get some mismatches on offense. And we can stretch our arms out and really cover the lane and alter shots."
Meyer has a 1970s look. He has a beard and a bushy hairstyle.
"I didn't shave during Christmas break," Meyer said. "We went on a little run and I decided to keep it. It's something different, something you don't see very often."
Meyer isn't sure whether he'll be cleanshaven for the state tournament. And he doesn't need the look to stand out; his performance draws attention.
"Paul works so hard on the boards and on defense, it forces the other kids to work hard," Symington said. "He leads by example and the others follow."
They've followed the lead to the state tournament. And Carpenter knows the excitement of playing at that level.
"It's a blast," the junior said. "You can't have a better time. We just need to go, have fun and work hard. And this is more well-known than the Legion tournament. There will be a lot of people there watching."
As for baseball the wires that support the batting cage in the gymnasium at Pembina already have been hung.
"I had to tell the baseball coach that it's still basketball season here at North Border," Symington said.
DeVillers can be reached at (800) 477-6572, ext. 128, (701) 780-1128 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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