Eight of Lake City boys basketball coach Jim Winger’s first 11 teams qualified for state.
A year after Lake City took second in 2001-02, Winger resigned to focus his attention on his duties as activities director.
The frequent trips to state ended. When the job opened up last year, Winger didn’t hesitate to return.
A year later, the Timberwolves (13-9) are returning to state. LC takes on play-in qualifier Borah (14-11) at 7 p.m. PST when the 5A state tournament begins today at the Idaho Center in Nampa.
LC upset Inland Empire League champ Post Falls 51-46 in the Region I championship game to earn a state berth.
“This is a huge thing for us, but more important it’s a huge thing for the program,” Winger said. “(Going to state) used to be something that was normal for us. When you win, people get used to it and when you lose, people get used to that. It’s been hard.”
Winger thought LC would return to state in his first year back. But he found out it was difficult to turn a mindset.
“Last year we wanted to win real bad, we just didn’t know how,” Winger said. “This year the kids learned how to win. It’s not easy. I think some of our losses this year helped us.”
Just when Winger thought his team had learned how to win, the T-Wolves lost two going into the postseason. The most difficult setback came when they lost at home to Lewiston when they had a chance to secure no worse than second in league.
“That week was bordering on cruel in practice,” Winger said. “I felt it was do or die for the season. I had to get a little tougher.”
Winger knew his team had the ability to qualify for state. He just didn’t know if his players believed it. He saw it finally surface in the regional final.
LC led by 12 points, but Post Falls cut the lead to one with just less than 3 minutes remaining. The T-Wolves regained composure and finished the game.
“I’m happy for the kids, but I’m happier for the program,” Winger said.
Defense has been the T-Wolves’ strength. Opponents have averaged 54 points per game, and LC has held teams to less than 50 in 10 games.
“I knew if we could find any scoring we’d do well,” Winger said.
•Post Falls (19-4), which beat Coeur d’Alene 53-36 to earn a state berth, takes on District III runner-up Vallivue (18-5) in an opener at 2.
Post Falls played for third last year but lost to Twin Falls. The Trojans returned their key players from a year ago and have been ranked second most of the season behind Eagle (22-1), which is favored to win state.
•Another area team that will challenge for a trophy, if not a state title, is Priest River (19-3).
Ranked No. 1 in the final poll, Priest River faces Homedale (13-10) when the 3A tournament begins today at Meridian High School.
•The 4A tourney begins today at Borah High School in Boise, and Region I champ Moscow (16-6) should be in the trophy mix.
The Bears open against Rigby (13-12) at 2.
•The 1A Division II tournament begins today at Caldwell High School. District I champ Kootenai (12-9) takes on Dietrich (18-8) at 12:15.