Coach Steve Rensch should be pardoned for waxing a tad nostalgic after watching his Shelby School team's season end with a heartbreaking 36-33 loss to St. Matthews in the opening round of the Phoenix Issacs School Tournament.
"I'm a little sad it's over," he said.
The sentiment of the moment wasn't caused by the team's highly impressive 29-5 record -- that mark has Rensch beaming. The nostalgia was due to the culmination of the three formative years during which Rensch helped mold the team into one of the best junior high/middle school teams in the state.
The players now move on to different hoop endeavors. A few will stay at tiny Shelby, some will be freshmen at Payson High next fall, and Dallas Rensch, the coach's son, will attend high school in Gilbert.
With the journey to basketball excellence over, coach Rensch looked back at the history of the team. "They started as a (Town) parks and recreation team, then played as sixth-graders (at Shelby) against mostly eighth-grade competition," he said. The team finished 12-9 and won the Rim Country Middle School Invitational Tournament.
As seventh-graders, Rensch said, the team "went 24-12 playing a tougher eighth-grade schedule."
Knowing Shelby would be much more seasoned when the junior high campaign opened in November, Rensch went looking for "the best teams in the state we could find."
Always competitive against top-notch foes, Shelby posted its best record ever and peaked in time to win the Tri-Valley League Tournament played in Sedona last week.
With the league crown, Shelby turned its attention to the Issacs shootout -- one of the most competitive junior-high-age tournaments held in Arizona each year. Among coaches it's considered the equal of a state junior high school championship.
In the first round against St. Matthews, Shelby led by small margins much of the first half, but fatigue soon began to take its toll.
"Our boys missed eight layups and the front end of four one-and-ones in the second half," Rensch said. "During the game it became apparent that these boys were just mentally exhausted and it was time to call it a season."
Following the team's return to its Tonto Village home, the coach was primed and ready to praise his players, especially Chicago Houdek.
"The major kudos go to Chicago," he said. "He found a toughness and consistency he previously lacked."
Paul Silver, the team's lone seventh-grader, also drew plaudits. "He came out of nowhere to become the team's driving force over the past third of the season," Rensch said.
Houdek and Silver were strong players, but year-end stats reveal Dallas Rensch was the most valuable offensively.
Despite being double- and triple-teamed most of the second half of the campaign, Dallas compiled a 17.6 points-per-game scoring average. The next high scorer, Houdek, finished with a 9.0 mark.
Rensch also led in assists, dishing out 4.8 per game. Nicky Cassuto finished with an average of 3.0 per contest.
In rebounding, Houdek dominated on the boards, averaging almost six per game. Mark Moore (5.9) was second and Silver (4.2) third.
Defensively, Houdek led Shelby in steals with 3.0 per game.
As a team, Shelby averaged 48.9 points while a strong defense held opponents to just 20.1.
The "D", coach Rensch said, was a big reason for Shelby's success.
"The team was excellent not by virtue of individual performances but rather its unity, especially on defense," he said.