By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
What happens when you can’t play or practice for three weeks?
In Galena’s case, you go over plays and strategies on Zoom. You keep players’ basketball IQ sharp by giving pop quizzes based off YouTube videos.
For workouts, grab a jump rope or go haul wood on the family farm.
When you finally can have a (non-mandatory) open gym and attendance is lacking, then you have coaches fill in and do 4-on-4.
“Our mental toughness was challenged,” said Galena coach David Sherer of the extended layoff caused by a COVID case within the team and recent winter weather.
But the untimely break didn’t stop the Galena Bears from doing something no other team in the state has done this season.
The Bears beat Class 2’s top-ranked team, undefeated Lakeland, 52-48 on Saturday afternoon at Parkview High School in Springfield.
Senior Wyatt Snelson scored a game-high 24 as Galena showed little rust in its first game since late January.
The Bears had their season halted after a blowout loss to Spokane on January 26.
Snelson caught COVID shortly thereafter and when he recovered from that, the Bears were like most every other team in the area: snowed out.
“It was a mental thing,” Snelson said. “Having COVID as well, it was a drag. We were just trying to get over it and come back at 100% before districts. (COVID) really drains you. When I first came back, it was tough.”
With many players living in rural areas and travel unsafe, practices weren’t possible. Sherer said he tried to keep his group in basketball shape but it was not easy.
“Some of them I thought might have fallen off the face of the Earth when I didn’t have contact with them,” Sherer said.
On Friday, the Bears held their first mandatory practice since late January.
A day earlier, when only six players could attend an optional open gym, Sherer along with Galena girls’ head coach David Argo and assistant coach Kenna Foster suited up.
“We were very sore the next day,” Sherer said. “We have a physical group.”
That was all the preparation Galena had coming into Saturday.
Galena led by as many as nine points early in the second half, but Lakeland rallied from there and the teams traded leads throughout the fourth quarter.
Jake Poole’s basket gave Galena a 49-48 lead with under one minute remaining. After a pair of Lakeland misses, Galena got a fastbreak layup to make it 51-48.
Lakeland missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds.
After giving up leads to good teams earlier in the season, the Bears finally secured victory.
“We’ve had (games like that) a couple of times against good teams, like Norwood and Strafford,” Snelson said. “We know what to do and what it takes to get over the last hump in the final three or so minutes.”
Despite few practices and a short rotation, the Bears weren’t lacking endurance on Saturday.
“I didn’t think we got too winded today for being off as long as we were,” Sherer said. “I give credit to (our players), because I know several of them jumped rope or rode ellipticals. They did things they needed to do to get ready.”
Offensive rebounds made the difference. The Bears scored many of their baskets off second and third chances.
“We’re pretty tenacious on the boards,” Sherer said. “We stay after it.”
The Bears feared they would go into their district tournament, which begins on Monday, having not played a game in nearly a month.
“All we could do is keep our heads up and hope we could play as soon as we could,” Snelson said. “We were pretty fired up after the Spokane loss. We came out flat and they came out hard.
“That loss sat in our guts for about three weeks. It just drove us, I guess.”
Earlier this week, Sherer emailed for a potential opponent. The only to team to agree to play? Lakeland.
Sherer then tapped into his coaching network and found a neutral site to host the game. Dr. Jason Michel, current assistant principal at Parkview, was a former assistant coach under Sherer years ago. Parkview agreed to host.
“We just needed to play,” Sherer said. “I knew our guys were chomping at the bit to play someone. It didn’t matter who. If we win by 30 or lose by 30, we just need to play.”
Galena feel behind by nine early, but exploded with a big second quarter to lead 31-25 at halftime.
Rafe Kalberloh and Blake Munsterman led Lakeland with 14 points apiece in the loss.
Lakeland is the top seed for the Class 2 District 13 Tournament. The Vikings will host either Osceola or Midway in the semifinal round at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Galena, the No. 3 seed in the Class 2 District 11 Tournament, will host 6-seed Fordland at 7 p.m. on Monday.
With one more victory, the Bears (15-5 overall) can finish with their most wins in a single season in over 10 years.
Galena 52, Lakeland 48
Lakeland 17 8 15 8 — 48
Galena 9 22 9 12 — 52
Lakeland (21-1 overall) – Kalberloh 14, Munsterman 14, Meeker 10, Ketterman 7, Wilkins 3
Galena (15-5 overall) – Wyatt Snelson 24, Gale 11, Bailey 6, Poole 6, Sartin 3, Thompson 2