OGDEN — A year ago, Weber High's Hayden Schenck suffered a cruel twist of fate when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the Warriors' 5A state tournament opener.
It's a potentially career-threatening injury and one that takes months of rehabilitation, but Schenck wasn't about to miss his senior season. So he worked his tail off to get ready to play again.
A year later, Schenck's knee is fully healed. The senior star led the Warriors' charge to the 2013 Region 1 championship, and now he and his teammates have their sights set on making some noise in this year's 5A state tournament.
With that goal in mind, Weber made its tourney debut Monday and used a strong second-half showing to whip West High, 68-39, at the Dee Events Center. The win sends the Warriors (20-3) into the 5A quarterfinals against Alta, which advanced with a 65-61 victory over Bingham. The Weber-Alta clash will tip off Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Schenck — a 6-foot-3 point guard who's the state's leading 5A scorer with an average of 26.3 points per game during the regular season — scored just five points in the first half of Monday's game.
Over the first two quarters, Schenck shed his scorer's role for one of distributing the ball to his teammates in helping get each of them into the flow of the game and facilitating the Warriors' offense.
"At practice with my teammates, they're always open and making shots, and I just felt like the first half I should get everyone involved," Schenck said. "It's a big-game atmosphere and they were hitting their shots and we were getting everyone involved. It turned out to be everyone playing together as a team and it worked in our favor.
"I don't really care how much I score as long as we get that win at the end of the day. I try to get a lot of steals and a lot of assists rather than just scoring, and it'll just come. I try to get my teammates open and just put us in the best position possible."
In the second half, however, Schenk came out and started taking the ball hard to the basket, scoring 12 of his game-high 17 points after halftime as Weber steadily pulled away from a spunky but outmanned West squad.
After what happened to him a year ago, Schenck admitted that getting back to the tournament with his teammates was something special.
"It definitely was because last year it was our first state game when I went out," he said, "so there was a lot of emotions and a lot of jitters before this game and I was really excited. It felt really good just to get out there with my teammates and have our community behind us.
"I've been looking forward to this since last year. That was my goal, to come back to the state tournament with my teammates, and I was fortunate to do it and it was a fun game. ... That was a tough day (a year ago), going down and watching my teammates play when I knew I could be out there helping them. So to come back and do this, it's been fun to do it with my teammates.
"It's a ton of rehab every single day that I had to do, and I did it hours a day for weeks and months at a time, and my teammates and my family were always there helping me," Schenck said. "It was always my goal to be back in the state tournament this year. I've always wanted to play in the Dee Events Center, so it was really a special moment to come here and play and be back from my knee injury. And my knee felt good and everything felt fine, so it was really exciting and it was a good moment for me."
Along with his 17 points, Schenck also handed out nine assists, grabbed eight rebounds and swiped five steals in a state sheet-filling performance.
Senior guard Jaren McKnight carried much of the scoring load for Weber in the first half, when he scored nine of his 15 points and hit a buzzer-beating jumper to help stake the Warriors to a 28-14 halftime lead. McKnight also had five rebounds as the Warriors beat the smaller Panthers on the backboards 43-31.
Junior Austin Tesch came in off the bench to score nine of his 12 points in the second half, including a crowd-pleasing dunk as part of a 20-3 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Tesch scored all nine of his second-half points during that spurt, which broke the game open and expanded the Warriors' lead to 30 points at 59-29.
"We really came together and got things rolling, and it was fun," said Tesch, who also grabbed seven rebounds and had a couple of steals. "Coach (Mark Larsen) has always told me we need a lift off the bench, so he wanted me to play that role and I just try to do my best at it.
"That (dunk) felt really good. A lot of the time it's Hayden getting a chance to dunk it. But when I get a chance, it's fun. There's something that happens and, once you get it, you're just like, 'All right, here we go.' You've gotta buckle down and get it. ... We had the jitters (early in the game, when the Warriors missed several dunk attempts), everyone wanting to jump out of the gym. We haven't reached our peak yet, but we're getting there. We've got a couple more games left, so let's go."
Asked about the notion that everybody else in the 5A tournament is playing for second place behind what looks to be an invincible Lone Peak team, Tesch wasn't going to concede anything to the Knights.
"I feel nobody's unbeatable," he said. "I respect Lone Peak a lot and everyone else in this tournament; there's a lot of good teams. But as long as we play our game and just go out there and ball, anything can happen. I'd love to get a shot at it."
For West (6-18), Denzel Latu led the way with nine points, while Sunday Owda had eight points, seven rebounds and four steals, and Alex Espinoza added seven points, five rebounds and three steals. The Panthers shot just 12 for 55 from the field (21.8 percent) and committed 19 turnovers.
Coach Larsen, whose wife Hali gave birth to a baby girl just four days earlier — and they were in attendance at Monday's tourney opener — admitted it's been a bit of a whirlwind lately. But he was extremely proud of the way his players have handled everything on their way to winning the Region 1 title, and he liked the way they stepped things up in the second half of Monday's win.
"We really think the third quarter is our quarter," he said. "We talk about it all the time. We want to come out and make that little run in the third or get back into it if we need to in the third as we made our adjustments so we can carry the momentum for the second half.
"Regardless of what happens over the next four days, we're obviously gonna try as hard as everyone else and we have high expectations. But for Weber and those kids to win a region championship, no one will ever take that away from them. There's not very many; there's only been six in the history of Weber up until we got this one this year, which makes No. 7. So that's something that, no matter where we finish (in the tournament), we're going to definitely focus on that because they've worked hard for two years to earn that chance.
"So we're really proud of that, but it's been a whirlwind couple of weeks with the baby and the games," Larsen said. "... I couldn't be prouder of the way the kids have responded and they just like each other so much they want to keep playing basketball, and I want to keep coaching them. I love coaching those kids and I'm fortunate to be able to coach those guys. I'm really proud of 'em, really proud of the last month they've had, and now we need to just ride it out for as many more days as we can."
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