Van Horn takes No. 3 Staley to the limit

By Bill Althaus
Van Horn senior guard Jaden Monday, left, drives against Staley's Kendrick Stone in Thursday's game at Staley. Monday fired in 27 points to keep it close but No. 3-ranked Staley held off Van Horn for a 64-57 win.

The Van Horn Falcons knew how much their regular-season finale at Staley meant to coach Max Sollars.

Veteran Staley coach Chris Neff and his assistant, Darryl Williams, coached Sollars at St. Joseph Lafayette High School, and in watching the two teams go after each other, it was like watching a game played in a mirror.

On this night, Staley had more size and depth than Sollars’ Falcons, who left the court holding their heads high following a 64-57 loss to the No. 3-ranked team in the state in Class 6.

“I’m not one for moral victories,” said Sollars, whose teams had never played a Neff squad until Thursday night, “but I think Coach Neff knows how hard my kids worked, how they never quit and how well they played the second half after we talked about making some adjustments at halftime.”

Ironically, both teams are named the Falcons. The Falcons from Staley ruled the game in the first quarter, running off to a 10-0 lead before Van Horn’s Jeremy Paige hit a 3-pointer at 3:42.

Staley led 18-11 after one quarter and 31-23 at halftime, before a fired up Van Horn squad came out of the halftime locker room with a new resolve.

“We had to make a strong showing for Coach,” said Jaden Monday, who scored 13 first-half points and 14 in the second half to lead all scorers with 27. “We always work hard, but we weren’t doing the little things Coach talks about – the little things that help you win.”

Senior forward Sean Mitchell, the sixth man who takes care of all the little things you never see in a scorebook, agreed.

“There’s not a stat for boxing out and we weren’t boxing out in the first half,” said Mitchell, as Staley’s big front line grabbed seven offensive rebounds. “They didn’t get those boards in the second half, because we were boxing out and playing strong defense.”

Talk about strong defense, Van Horn forced five consecutive turnovers to start the third quarter and slowly climbed back into the game.

Van Horn guard Jeremy Paige (4) brings the ball down court against Staley defender Kyan Evans (0) in Thursday's regular season finale at Staley High School. Van Horn kept it close throughout against No. 3-ranked Staley but fell 64-57.

“We were down, down early and down late, but we never gave up,” said Monday, who fueled a late comeback with Za’Corrie Carr as they combined for three 3-pointers to pull Van Horn within 60-54 late in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Staley’s David Lewis and Asa Bridges hit four consecutive free throws to ice the win.

“We came up here to win,” Monday said, “but we can take so much from this game that will help us going into district. We’re at that point of the season where you lose, you go home. And none of us want to go home.”

And that includes Sollars, who is slowly building a basketball culture at Van Horn.

“All six guys who played tonight had a big role in the game, especially the second half,” Sollars said, as he pointed towards Mitchell. “Sean brought a winning attitude to the team from football (where he was a 1,000-yard runner and passer). He took a couple of charges and hit some big baskets in the fourth quarter.

“Jaden can do it all on the court. Jeremy (Paige, who added 10 points) is fearless out there and Za’Corrie and Korey (Messick) play big on both ends of the court.”

Van Horn lost standout guard Brycen Dean, who fell hard at the 5:49 mark of the fourth quarter, but Sollars never uses injury or illness as an excuse.

“I learned how to play from Coach Neff and Coach Williams and I hope one day my kids are proud to say that they played for me and they played hard for all 32 minutes they were out on the court.” Sollars said. “I wanted to win, I really did, but I couldn’t be any prouder of these guys. It’s been a great journey and we hope there is a lot of season left to play.”

Van Horn coach Max Sollars gives instructions to his team in Thursday's game at Staley. Sollars played for Staley coach Chris Neff at St. Joseph Lafayette. His team gave No. 3-ranked Staley a scare before falling 64-57.

Monday agreed, adding, “We love Coach, and we let him know that. None of us would be the players, or the men, we are without him.”

The Falcons (15-9) enter next week’s Class 5 District 14 tournament as the No. 1 seed, and will host the winner of Saturday’s game between Winnetonka and Kansas City East in a semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Kendrick Stone led Staley (20-3), the top seed in Class 6 District 16, with 14 points. Bridges added 12 and Ryan Evans had 11.