GILBERTVILLE — Don Bosco senior Sean McFadden’s accurate shot extends beyond the basketball court.
Prior to last week’s pressure-packed substate final with West Fork, McFadden and his teammates spent a near two-hour bus ride to Clear Lake targeting each other in the popular multi-player action video game Fortnite.
Turns out this new pregame routine helped the Dons relax before clearing the final hurdle to secure their first trip to the state boys’ basketball tournament since the school qualified in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. It was the brainchild of sophomore reserves Gabe Fernandez and Mason Denton.
“Mason brought along a TV, Gabe brought his PS4 and it just kind of went from there,” said junior point guard Jack Kelley. “Sean McFadden is probably the biggest gamer on the team, for sure.
“I think it helped some of our guys. I know it helped me a lot. The long bus ride would have been really difficult if I just sat there.”
McFadden added, “It was fun just to relax with my teammates. I think it calmed all of us down and got some laughs out of us.”
On the basketball court, Don Bosco coach Nate Kellogg said he was pleased with the manner in which his team was able to grind out a 53-44 win over tradition-rich West Fork to qualify for Monday’s 11:15 a.m. state tournament opener against George-Little Rock.
McFadden and Zach Nie are each 1,000-point scorers and Clayton Weber also plays key minutes as part of a senior class that has helped the program rise from three wins their freshmen season to 15 the following year and 21 last season. Navigating the largest bracket of the four classes, it took resilience for Don Bosco to finally earn a place in this 1A state field.
“We ended last year in second-round disappointment (a one-point loss to Dunkerton),” Kellogg said. “It would have been real easy to say, ‘Well, that’s what we’re at. We’re just a second-round team. We’re just that good.’ They locked down and refocused in the offseason and didn’t shy away from the fact that we’re really good and we’re going for it this year.”
Don Bosco’s first state tournament run in three decades is the product of a versatile offense few 1A schools can replicate. McFadden averages 15.3 points a game on 64 percent shooting inside, while Nie is a 44 percent 3-point shooter averaging 14.8 points, and Kelley is tough off the dribble with 14.3 points on 50 percent shooting.
“We have post presence and we have really good guard play,” Kellogg said. “We kind of decide which one is working for us tonight, which one is working this quarter.”
Nie and Zach Huff have also become more assertive in facilitating roles after Kelley missed time earlier this season with a hip injury. Being forced to compete without their starting point guard made the Dons stronger once Kelley returned.
“It was tough sitting out,” Kelley said. “I really hated it, but at the same time I knew that I had to be the best teammate I could be, keep everyone else going and stay involved with the game. Now, it’s great to be back.
“Our options have expanded a lot more where we don’t have to run maybe the same sets every time for the same people. At any point, anyone can take the ball and run the set that they want.”
For the Don Bosco seniors, this trip to Des Moines will be a dream ending.
“It was definitely a huge goal of ours since growing up as a little kid,” Nie said. “To improve our team from the bottom up, and having fun playing, it’s just a blast.
“Coming into this year us seniors, we knew we had one more shot. We knew that we’d better put in a little extra work so we could make our last year count.”