KELLOGG — There is a surprising power in lower expectations. Not that anyone wouldn’t want to give their best effort, but also not being so overly concerned with the final results that they can’t function.
That is the Kellogg Wildcats.
After last week’s 3A District I championship win, the Wildcats had three members of their team named to the Intermountain League All-League team, each having played a vital role in how the Wildcats season ended.
Senior Brennan Atkins, and juniors Graden Nearing and Gavin Luna were exceptional for the Wildcats down the stretch, when it became important for them to be playing their best ball of the season.
Atkins, who missed the middle portion of the season while serving a suspension, had to watch his team toil through a difficult stretch of their season, which left him frustrated and even more motivated.
“It was hard to have to sit there and watch,” Atkins said. “I just wanted to get back out there and play as hard as I could for my teammates.”
Luna and Nearing were tasked with keeping the ship afloat in Atkins’ absence, a task that proved hard due to the degree of difficulty in their schedule.
“We tried to keep the guys motivated as best we could,” Luna said. “It wasn’t fun losing that much, but we kept telling them it didn’t matter yet.”
“You don’t have to win every game to get to state,” Nearing said. “But we won the games we needed to.”
All three had Luna’s 4-point play (more on that in our sports wrap on page A7) from last week as their favorite moment of the season, although Luna did also mention the 17-point come-from-behind win over Lakeland early in the season as a close second.
“I think that game showed what we were capable of early,” Luna said.
Kellogg was 2-11 when Atkins returned, and finished 9-13 (five of those losses were single digit point margins), but now as they move into the State Tournament, the Wildcats are back in a more comfortable setting.
Kellogg has played 14 games at Meridian High School over the last five seasons (6-8 in that stretch), Only Andrews Gymnasium has hosted more Wildcat games in that time.
“We want to go and handle our business, but we aren’t feeling a ton of pressure like we have in the past when we were favorites to compete for a championship,” Luna said.
“We are coming in as underdogs and it’s kind of nice,” Nearing added.
Luna and Atkins are the only two players with state competition experience, but only in a limited capacity.
This team has gone long stretches this season being unheralded, but that doesn’t change that it is a team that has more than just three players who, once they get going, make a huge difference for Kellogg.
“We need to get ourselves and our teammates going,” Luna said. “If we can get guys like Raiden (Rickets) and (Tyler) Oertli going early, we’re going to be tough down there.”
Kellogg is on a collision course with a team that they are not terribly familiar with in Marsh Valley, but that isn’t going to change the way Atkins and company plan to play.
“We are going to go down there and play our hardest. For us and for our teammates,” Atkins said. “There’s no pressure, so I hope we go out there and have fun.”
Kellogg will take on Marsh Valley at Meridian High School on Thursday, at 6:15 p.m. (MST).