VINTON — Some teams treat being ranked No. 1 like the plague. Don’t like it, don’t want to have anything to do with it.
It seems to be a little different at Vinton-Shellsburg, where the Vikings are embracing being top ranked this week in Class 3A. That might be because it’s the first time it has ever happened.
“It’s pretty cool,” admitted Vinton-Shellsburg Coach Joe Johnson. “It’s something I didn’t expect, I guess. It’s hard to describe. The kids have worked so hard to get to where they are at, so it’s neat for them. And the community, there is a lot of buzz around town.”
“Obviously it’s a new experience,” said leading scorer Grant Sagan. “I think we kind of like it, the recognition and everything. We definitely do not take it for granted. We don’t think we can just walk on the court and win.”
That’s a sentence that ought to make Johnson happy. Like every team, Vinton-Shellsburg has a couple of flaws in that it’s not particularly big and it doesn’t have a whole lot of depth.
But it has been good enough to finish the pre-Christmas portion of its schedule 8-0.
“I definitely think we can play better,” said Sagan, a 6-foot-4 senior post averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. “That is exciting.”
You knew V-S would be good this season. The Vikings returned their top four scorers from a 19-5 team last season that won the Wamac Conference’s West Division and lost to Western Dubuque in a 3A substate final.
Sagan leads the way, coming off a season in which he was named a third-team all-stater by the Iowa Newspaper Association. He had a monster double-double Tuesday night against rival Benton Community — 24 points and 16 rebounds.
“He’s very versatile,” Johnson said. “Being a vertically challenged team, he has to patrol the middle for us, even though he’s probably a ‘3’ if we had size.”
Three other guys average double figures in scoring, showing this club isn’t all about one man. Max Griffith is at 12.5 points, Maxton Kearns 11.5 and Kelyn Rickels 10.4. Nolan Sagan, Grant’s younger brother, chips in 7.1 points per game and can play inside if Johnson wants to move Grant Sagan to the perimeter from time to time.
Vinton-Shellsburg has been tested in a couple of ballgames, squeaking past Center Point-Urbana by a pair and Marion by eight. The Vikings know their ranking means they’ll be tested plenty more by season’s end.
Interestingly, V-S and Western Dubuque (the Wamac East’s top team, unbeaten and ranked in 4A) don’t meet in the regular season. They will scrimmage, however, over the holiday break.
Won’t that be fun?
“We know being No. 1 puts pressure on us. We have to back that up,” said Johnson, in his seventh season. “These kids played so much basketball over the summer. They knew coming in they couldn’t settle for what they’ve already done. They are a hungry group.
“I keep telling them we’re not even playing our best basketball. But one thing is they know how to win.”