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By Greg DeVillers / Forum Communications Co., Published February 28 2012

Propelled to peak: 2008 titles solidified Grafton as a top team in Class B

GRAFTON, N.D. – Jake Hanson doesn’t have to look far to see what provided incentive for him in basketball.

“When we were eighth-graders, Grafton won state,” the Grafton High School senior said. “That was motivation for us.”

Grafton is back at the North Dakota Class B state high school basketball tournament. When the Spoilers play defending champion North Star in a quarterfinal game Thursday afternoon at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. It will mark the second straight trip to state and third in the past five seasons for Grafton.

The Spoilers were a small school in the large-school Class A division. They were 2-18 in the 2002-03 season, their last season before becoming a large school in Class B. The 2002-03 season ended a seven-season run in which Grafton totaled 17 wins while playing Class A.

By comparison, Grafton has won 17 or more games each of the past six years, taking a 22-2 mark to state, and has had only one sub-.500 season (4-15 in 2005-06) since joining Class B.

In Class A, “they didn’t have the numbers,” current coach Mike Hanson said. “And when you get hammered year in and year out, it’s hard to get kids excited about playing. Kids aren’t going to put a lot of time into it if they figure they’re never going to win.”

Grafton had its competitive years in Class A – the Spoilers, for instance, were state qualifiers for four straight seasons from 1984-87. That was the exception rather than the rule.

So what has turned around the Spoilers’ program? There have been several contributing factors.

Mike Hanson said Grafton’s struggling A teams had some quality players, but not the depth to be competitive.

“The level of competition changed when Grafton went to B,” Hanson said. “Class B has good teams. But night in and night out, the A is at a higher level. I think when we went to B, the kids saw they had a chance to win, so they probably worked a little harder.”

Mike Hanson believes the Spoilers winning the 2008 state B basketball title has been a springboard to success.

“It was such a big deal to get to state, then to win it – that was huge,” the Spoilers coach said. “Kids saw that if they worked hard, they could do well.

“They saw how hard those kids (on the 2008 title team) worked. These kids took it upon themselves to do the same. They’ve developed skills and been in the weight room all summer, getting stronger.”

As a result, Grafton is back in the state tournament. And the Spoilers get another shot in the quarterfinals at North Star, the team that beat them in the state title game last year.

DeVillers writes

for the Grand Forks Herald