Watch: Summit boys, girls basketball win emotional senior night games
Tigers boys in promising state tournament position ahead of regular-season finale Saturday at Eagle Valley
When the eight Summit High School boys basketball seniors in attendance convened at midcourt for a final senior photo, the team was sure not to forget the laptop at the scorer’s table. The reason the computer had to be in view of the moment was because the team’s ninth senior, Banta Sylla, was watching via livestream from his home as a novel coronavirus precaution.
Sylla wasn’t in attendance for this tight-knit crew’s final home game on the Tigers hardwood, but there was no way the crew that has been playing the sport together since the sixth grade was going to have him feel left out.
“… If we don’t have one of our links with us, we are not the full team,” Tigers senior captain Cam Kalaf said after the senior ceremony. “Him being on the livestream, us going up there, he’s one of us. He’s our brother. It’s a disappointment he can’t be there on senior night. We feel for him. He couldn’t be here on senior night to experience that, so we went up and tried to show him some love.”
The Tigers boys showed Sylla more than just love Friday night. In their swan song in the gym where they’ve grown up together through the years, Summit defeated Rifle, 53-45, in an emotional contest to improve its record to 8-5 and 8-3 in 4A Western Slope League play on the season.
The win also bolstered the Tigers’ chances at earning a spot in the 32-team 4A state tournament, which will have 16 fewer teams this year due to the COVID-19-shortened season. Entering the night, Summit was ranked in the low 20s while Rifle entered smack-dab on the bubble in the low 30s. The Tigers win puts them in great shape to sew up a spot in the single-elimination bracket ahead of the regular-season finale Saturday at Eagle Valley.
Tigers head coach Jordan Buller said Summit knew coming into the game that Rifle was a team that didn’t want to score too many points and wanted to win in a controlled fashion. Though Summit fell short of pushing the game in the 60-point range, the Tigers did pick up the pace in more of a run-and-gun style in the second half to edge the Bears and wear down their opponent with transition baskets.
“I think it took us a minute to wake up and get there with our energy,” Buller said. “It was our last home game, senior night is emotional just to start the game. But the guys really turned it on, and we found a way to win. That’s the point of the game.”
The Tigers secured the win late in the fourth quarter on a play that speaks to the team’s identity and strengths. Summit moved the ball around well, passing with pace, before finding senior Naz Poliuk in the corner for a nothing-but-net open 3-pointer. The made basket sent Kalaf and the rest of the Summit seniors — Hector Diaz, Tyler Nakos, Kobe Cortright, Andrew Duxbury, Ian Connors and Marcus Popoff — into a frenzy as Rifle took a timeout.
“When I see Naz get an open shot anywhere around the arc, it kind of — a sense of joy goes through me because nine out of 10 times, it goes in the basket,” Kalaf said. “As soon as I saw it arc, I knew it was going to go in. As soon as it went right through the net, the amount of exuberance that went through me, I was immensely happy.”
To Buller, the win is about the totality of the group because that’s how it has always been.
“Even as freshmen, this class had a lot of inspiring kids,” Buller said. “They had a bunch of guys, it was obvious there was a lot of friendship and camaraderie in this group. And it’s not just the kids. It’s also the families. There’s a lot of good families, a lot of good parents raising good kids, and that makes my job much easier.”
The Tigers girls also won Friday, improving their record to 3-10 and 2-7 in league play with their best game of the season by far. The 53-39 win over an eight-win Rifle team was a resounding statement for outgoing senior Karen Barrios — who played one of her best games of the season — and the talented group of sophomores and juniors who will return.
Tigers head coach Kayle Walker-Burns commended her team for learning a modified 2-2-1 half-court zone trap that helped the Tigers to pull away from the Bears. Summit was led in scoring via 25 points from sophomore Autumn Rivera while Barrios contributed four points in a passionate effort.
“I’m so excited for the girls and future. Losing Karen is going to be a big spot to fill, but I’m excited for next season,” Walker-Burns said.
“My focus was to play hard, because I wanted to win on senior night, leave it all on the court,” Barrios said. “We didn’t let ourselves down, like usual. We were keeping it up. And my whole focus was, ‘this game is zero-zero,’ to not think about the score. This is probably one of the best feelings, the first Rifle win for coach. It feels so different. It almost erases all of the loses we had.”
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