Awards from the winter sports season are still coming in after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed things for so long, and the West Central Area boys basketball team became the most recent local program to honor their athletes.
The Knights had plenty to recognize. This past winter was one of the best seasons in team history as WCA went 27-3 and made its first section title game appearance. The Knights simply ran into the defending Class A champions in Section 6 as their season came to an end in a 57-45 final on March 12.
“It was an extremely fun season,” WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said. “They were a dedicated bunch of guys since way back in elementary school. They worked to develop talent, but many times talented teams do not win. They won because they took that talent and combined it with a work ethic and an unselfish attitude.”
The Knights averaged 71 points a night, while holding teams to 47. They shared the ball and found the open shooters, and that led to 41% shooting from three as a team. They also held opponents to just 29% from three and 37% shooting overall.
“They all made sacrifices individually to collectively be very dominant,” Hunter said. “Our coaching staff was really pleased that no matter how much we kept winning, they did not become complacent and were willing to let the coaches keep pushing them to be better in the minor details of the game.”
Seniors Jack Van Kempen and Gage Staples were both big parts of that, and that showed in postseason honors as both were named co-MVPs of the Knights.
Van Kempen was also named the Pheasant Conference MVP after the Knights won that league title. The forward was WCA’s Chairman of the Boards Award winner for his work on the glass, along with being academic all state in the classroom.
Staples added the Best Defensive Player Award to his list of honors, and was also All-Pheasant Conference. He averaged a team-best 14.5 points to go with 6.5 rebounds a night, and Van Kempen averaged 13.5 points, 10 rebounds and had a team-high 56 blocked shots.
Senior guard Jacob Bright was named the Knights’ most dedicated player, along with being all conference. Bright was the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 8.3 points-per game. He led the team in steals (72) and made threes (69), and was second on the team in assists (111).
Junior forward Tate Christenson dished out the most assists with 120 to average four a game on his way to earning the Assist Award. He also had the best free-throw percentage (80.4) and was an honorable-mention all-conference performer.
Junior guard Grant Beuckens earned the Knights’ Mr. Clutch Award and was an All-Pheasant Conference player. Beuckens was WCA’s third-leading scorer (13.3 PPG), while also dishing out 3.2 assists per game and grabbing 2.3 steals a night.
Junior Brady Reeve rounded out the Knights team awards by being named this group’s most-improved player. Reeve averaged six points a night off the bench and shot 48.5% from three (33-of-68).
He was one of six players who shot nearly 40% or better from deep for the Knights. Cole Anderson (3-for-3), Bright (69-of-139, 49.6%), Ryder Staples (17-of-36, 47.2%), Van Kempen (57-of-141, 40.4%), Christenson (37-of-94, 39.4%), Gage Staples (11-of-31, 35.5%) and Beuckens (42-of-122, 34.4%) were part of the depth from three-point range that made this team so hard to guard.
The Knights have some good pieces back next year, but they do have to replace a lot of talent and leadership after the graduation of Bright, Gage Staples and Van Kempen.
“Our three senior captains were just outstanding in their character, leadership and work ethic,” Hunter said of that trio. “There is no doubt they will be successful people in life. They have given a lot of themselves to our basketball program and will always be a part of the WCA Basketball family.”
2019-2020 WCA BOYS BASKETBALL LETTER WINNERS - Jack Van Kempen, Gage Staples, Jacob Bright, Grant Beuckens, Tate Christenson, Brady Reeve, Xander Bontjes, Nathaniel Junker, Ryder Staples, Cole Anderson, Isaac Kreft and Jacob Strunk