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Falcons may be under radar,
but they're No. 1 where it counts

Expect sellout crowds next week when the Blair Oaks Falcons host the district tournament in Wardsville.

Feb. 16, 2017

WARDSVILLE, Mo. --- You're a Class 3 school and you're 21-4.

Three of your losses have been to bigger schools, one of those a lot bigger.

The one loss in Class 3 was to a team that, at the time, was ranked second in the state. By one point.

Less than three weeks later, you beat the same team, then No. 1 --- by 13 points.

And you're ranked eighth in the state.

You think Ryan Ficks cares? We'll stick with the one-word answer.


"It's nice to get the recognition, but It doesn't bother me at all," said Fick, head coach of the Blair Oaks Falcons. "I'd be naive to think the kids don't look at that and think about it, because they're high school kids. As a team, we've talked about --- and every coach says the same thing --- it's really just the one at the end that means anything.

"But we're using it as a motivational piece to keep working harder."

For now, the Falcons are No. 1 where it counts most --- the No. 1 seed in next week's district tournament. No. 2 is Southern Boone --- the lone Class 3 team to beat the Falcons and still ranked second in the most recent poll --- while Father Tolton is the third seed.

"You could make an argument," Fick said, "that any of those teams could have been the No. 1 seed."

Two more things about next week's tourney --- one helps the Falcons, the other helps every team in the eight-team district.

First, it's in Wardsville, the Green House, the Falcons' roost, where Blair Oaks beat Southern Boone by 13 in the aforementioned rematch.

There's no place like home, especially when the season's on the line.

"It's really fortunate for us to be at home," Fick said. "To be able to play in familiar surroundings with your student section there in full force will be nice, because when you're an hour or an hour and a half away --- especially in those early-round games --- you might have a few parents in the stands and that's about it. You have to create your own energy.

"But I expect we'll have good crowds next week."

That's what you'd call an understatement, sports fans.

Second, Michael and Jontay Porter are no longer looming around Central Missouri courts with their 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10 frames, as the dynamic basketball brothers have moved to Seattle.

"It definitely evens the playing field and gives everybody a little more optimism," Fick said. "That's two guys who are arguably going to play in the NBA some day, and that's not something you see very often in this area.

"We've got some good players around here, but we're not talking about lottery picks. With those guys, you can't even come up with a game plan that works."

Tolton is currently a modest 12-9 without the Porters, but don't be fooled.

"They built a schedule with those guys in mind," Fick said. "Then they leave and you just can't completely change it, so they've played a schedule that's been ridiculous, night in and night out."

The Falcons have played a good schedule, as well, including a date with Columbia Hickman. Those were two teams who certainly liked to run and then run some more --- just the way Blair Oaks likes it.

Get up and go, the faster the better.

"It's a mindset ... we've been playing that way for several years now," Fick said. "This year's group, that's really the only way they've known to play, to get the ball up and down the floor and try to make good decisions in transition."

To get up and go, you have to get the basketball, first. And not on an in-bounds pass after a score, either.

"If you get a stop or you're creating points off turnovers," Fick said, "that really allows you to play fast. Going into the season, defense was one of our biggest areas of concern. It's a different team defensively than some of the other teams I've had in the past.We don't have the overall foot-speed and quickness to get up and pressure like we've had before, but our defensive positioning is good, and we've adjusted our press to contain and control tempo a little bit more.

"But that's not the only way we can play. I think our half-court offense is much better this year than it has been the last couple of years ... we've got good pieces."

Starting inside with the biggest piece, Jason Rackers, a sturdy 6-6 senior.

"He's a solid post player," Fick said. "Then we've got a couple different guys who can shoot the ball from the outside and when you have those pieces, it's hard to key on just one aspect of what you're doing."

Rackers is averaging nearly 20 points a game --- he scored 34 in the team's 66-57 win over California on Tuesday night --- and eight rebounds. After that, there's plenty of balance. Senior Dylan Skinner is at 13.5 points and four assists, junior Tim Fick is at 10 points and four assists, and senior Thomas Verslues is averaging 10 points.

Balance? Besides six different players leading the team in scoring at different times, when the Falcons scored 76 points in last week's win over Versailles, they only had one player in double figures.

That's balance.

"We had 12 out of 15 guys score, so to be able to have that as a coach, that's something special," Fick said.

This is Fick's 18th year in coaching, his 11th at Blair Oaks. And just like his team plays, it's flashing by quickly.

"It seems like just yesterday we were playing in the Eugene Tournament to open the season," he said. "It's crazy, it just gets faster and faster every year."

This year's seniors know as much.

"When it gets to late January and early February," Fick continued, "they start to realize that it's days and weeks (until it's over) and not months and years. There's a little more sense of urgency."

Indeed. It is almost go time, after all.