Varsity boys prepare to sweep out Prospect

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Grant Niego '20 shoots a free throw against Oak Park River Forest High School in the NC fieldhouse (Sorice/LION).

Adriana Serrano, reporter

The crowd’s anticipation was evident as the roaring cheers echoed throughout the NC gym, packed with middle schoolers, families and students waiting anxiously for the start of last year’s Blackout Game. As the eager crowd continued to clamor among the bleachers, Grant Niego’ 20 and Michael Niedermeyer’ 20, along with the 15 other athletes, prepared themselves in the locker room before storming into the packed gyms where all their classmates would be cheering them on.

“I always look forward to the roar of the crowd right when we first run out on the court,” Niego said. “After running out of the ‘tunnel’ you realize how many people are there and how loud the gym is.”

With the annual Blackout Game making its return for the 12th year in a row on Feb. 28, students and faculty are once again preparing for one of the few nights of the year where the school is able to come together to cheer and support fellow classmates in one of the biggest basketball games of the season.

“As a team we have been preparing for this moment the whole season,” Niego said.

This season’s boys varsity  team lacked experience and training as compared to previous years. With Niego and Niedermeyer as the only previous varsity players on the team, they were very inexperienced at the start of the season, head varsity Coach Tom Sloan said. However, now having played 20 plus games, that issue has become less of a concern and the team has been able to win games against strong competition.

“Every day we go to practice and everytime we have a game, the boys are trying to improve and develop their individual skills and develop their team work, effort and hussle,” Sloan said. “In that sense, we are getting ready for every game every day.”

As they prepare to play against Prospect, the athletes have been specifically focusing on their basic fundamentals. Therefore, during practice, attention has been centered around dribbling, passing, shooting, catching, rebounding, and defending, Sloan said. Building upon these skills will not only allow for the team to hopefully secure a win against Prospect, but for success on the rest of the season as well.

“Our strengths are our teams chemistry and unselfishness on the court,” Niedemeyer said.  “We play each possession for our teammates and want to help the team succeed.”

With team-bonding activities such as Thursday night pasta parties, the athletes have been able to establish a close knit environment where everyone works very well with eachother and no one is afraid to speak up when they think someone is wrong, Niego said. This bond, along with the high energy the team maintains, will make a strong impact on the game.

“In order to win, we must be able to block out the distractions that go along with a big game like this while still enjoying every moment of the night,” Niedemeyer said.

Niedermeyer is most looking forward to being able to play in front of a big crowd and seeing everyone cheering in their black-uniformed outfits. He also hopes to “fly the lion,” a ritual where a big wooden lion is hung up in the locker room after every win.

As for the rest of the season, the team hopes to win regionals so they have a chance to compete for the sectional championship hosted at LT. The team still hopes to advance as far as they can into state playoffs with the hopes of even acquiring a state title, which has not been done since 1970.

“Our players really look forward to [the blackout game],” Sloan said. “To see the looks on their faces when they come out of the locker room and get into the gym. The gyms packed with all their classmates, that’s really fun to see all the students there having a really special high school moment like that.”