- Val T.
Malchow: I had doubts whether we’d reach our potential
Coach on Rossville: They resemble Maconaquah with their style of play
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester boys basketball coach Rob Malchow takes pride in knowing that his team has beaten everybody it has played this season.
Of course, it took two tries to finally beat Lewis Cass.
How Malchow felt on his drive back to the family farm after the first meeting with Lewis Cass on Dec. 30 and how he felt after they beat them in the sectional final 66 days later were two different feelings.
After Rochester lost that December game 49-35 to Lewis Cass, Malchow said he wondered whether the team would be able to reach its potential. Due to the pandemic, RHS had gone 19 days between games.
At that point, Rochester had played only four games – they were 3-1 – while Lewis Cass had played eight.
“After we played Lewis Cass on the drive home … I just told my wife, I said, ‘We’re just not a very good basketball team right now,’” Malchow said. “And we weren’t. Quin was in COVID protocol. He was coming out within a day of that game. Tarick at that time was still getting familiar with the point guard position and how feeling his way through how to play with these seniors. … As far as calling us a good team, we weren’t at that point.”
The first week in January proved to be crucial. Stesiak, an all-Three Rivers Conference player, was back after missing 20 practices. Malchow himself was fully back after a positive COVID test.
“We were on COVID (pause) for 10 days in December,” Malchow said. “I felt like when we first came into the season in early November, about the time we were starting to look like we were going to hit our stride, we were out for 10 days. And then when we came back, Quin wasn’t a part of it for 10 more days. So as far as a group, we were just missing.”
Rochester had not played a road game yet. Suddenly, they had three road games in a five-day span against Winamac, Whitko and Oregon-Davis.
They beat Winamac 40-32. Malchow said he wasn’t sure how the team would play before they pulled that game out behind McCarter’s 23 points.
They then beat Whitko 43-41, holding on in the fourth quarter after building a double-digit lead and ending a five-year losing streak to Whitko. Aidan Smith and Stesiak held Whitko top scorer Brett Sickafoose to seven points, which was 11 under his average.
Blake Hughes also scored seven points in the fourth quarter that night.
“That was our coming-out party,” Malchow said. “Quin was starting to get his legs. Aidan was playing really well at that point. And Blake was starting to turn the corner.”
They capped the week with a 47-32 win over Oregon-Davis, a win that Malchow attributed to their depth.
Malchow admitted he thought he would take it if they could win two of the three games. As it turned out, they have not lost a game yet.
They are 18-1 heading into their Class 2A regional semifinal against Rossville at Lapel at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Along the way, they went 9-0 in Three Rivers Conference play, marking the first time they have gone undefeated in the TRC since joining the conference in 1987 and the first time they have gone undefeated in any conference since they went 7-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference in 1975.
They also beat North Newton and avenged their earlier loss to Lewis Cass to win the 34th sectional title in school history.
“These guys, come fourth quarter, it’s like they find another gear,” Malchow said. “They have this faith in themselves. They just know. ‘We got eight more minutes. We’re down four. We’re fine.’
“All season long, these guys have really done well in the fourth quarter in finishing games. … I think you have to play all 32 minutes against us.”
Rochester’s offense looked different in their two sectional games. They did not make any 3-pointers against North Newton Friday but made nine treys against Lewis Cass Saturday.
Quin Stesiak and Tarick McGlothin combined for eight of the treys while the team’s top sharpshooter, senior Grant McCarter, was held to one 3 and five points.
Still, McCarter had an impact.
“It all goes back to them keying on Grant,” Malchow said. “That’s the beauty that Grant brings. He only had 11 points in the sectional, but he’s responsible for a lot more because of Tarick and Quin being open like they were.”
Malchow also said that it helped to have a team with six seniors in the middle of a pandemic. They welcomed younger players like McGlothin and Smith and played on after the first pause knowing that another pause could happen at any time.
As it turned out, it never did.
“I think if you do get knocked out for underclassmen, it’s hard to get going again,” Malchow said. “And the seniors would come back in, and then off we go.”
Getting ready for Rossville
Like Rochester, Rossville also won their sectional last year but was denied the chance to compete in the regional when the pandemic caused the state tournament to be canceled.
Rossville’s tallest starter is 6-3 senior Damon Shaw. He leads the Hornets with 16 points and eight rebounds per game.
Seniors Reid Douglas, Jesse Cornell and Kaleb Del Real and juniors Luke Meek and C.J. Geheb join Shaw in giving Rossville six players who have made at least 10 3-pointers this season.
Defensively, Malchow expects Rossville to trap and try to force turnovers with their quickness. It might not behoove Rossville to get into a physical, halfcourt game against RHS given that the Zebras have three players – 6-3 Quin Stesiak, 6-4 Kyle Reinartz and 6-6 Blake Hughes – who are as tall as Shaw.
“We’re still collecting information, but there’s no question they’re guard-oriented, they’re quick, they like to trap, and they like to drive and kick,” Malchow said. “And so, we're working on how to handle run-and-jump-type defenses and trap-type defenses.”
Malchow said practice Monday was devoted to free throw shooting and “basic drill work.” Tuesday’s practice was about conditioning, drill work and a lot of work up and down the floor. Wednesday’s practice was at Lapel, where Malchow emphasized shooting. Thursday and Friday’s practices will be devoted to putting in a game plan for Rossville.
There’s another good omen: Rochester has not lost away from home since February 2020.
“I think we enjoy being on the road more than we do at home, to be honest,” Malchow said. “Get on the bus, and usually it’s riding the yellow dog. But this year it’s just different.
“These guys made it something we look forward to. They embraced the challenge, and we were able to find ways to win.”