‘Not wanting the season to end’: Powers stands at helm as New England travels to North Dakota Class B state basketball tournament

Whether Luke Powers and the New England boys basketball team likes it or not, the high school season will officially come to an end Saturday at the Bismarck Event Center during the North Dakota Class B state tournament.

Luke Powers
Press Photo by Royal McGregor New England boys basketball head coach Luke Powers, right, walks along the sideline during the Region 7 championship game on March 12 at Knight of Columbus Activities Center. The Tigers are making their first appearance at the North Dakota Class B state boys basketball tournament since 1997.

Whether Luke Powers and the New England boys basketball team likes it or not, the high school season will officially come to an end Saturday at the Bismarck Event Center during the North Dakota Class B state tournament.
The Tigers (22-2) claimed the Region 7 title for the first time in program history and their first regional championship since 1997. When New England went to back-to-back state tournaments in 1996 and 1997, the team played in Region 8.
With the region championship, the Tigers were guaranteed at least one more week of practice.
However, Powers said the team wasn’t just worried about punching its ticket to state for the first time in nearly 20 years. It was about a journey that no one on team wanted to be over.
“None of us wanted (the season) to end, because we are having so much fun,” said Powers, who is in his fifth season as the Tigers’ head coach. “I don’t want it to be over at the end of this week, but it’s going to because we run out of games and kids have to go run track. But I wish we could keep playing basketball.
“That’s kind of been part of our program is that we spend a lot of time in the gym and we don’t spend a lot of time in the gym just because we are working to get better. We spend a lot of time in the gym, because everyone that’s part of this program loves the game.”
Powers, who is from Butte, Mont., came down to New England for the first time when he was 22 years old while he was attending Dickinson State. Before arriving at DSU, he played basketball at Montana Tech for two years. He graduated from DSU in 2007 with a degree in exercise science.
The first group he coached was the fifth- and sixth-grade team that included current seniors John Urlacher, Mason Stang, Daniel Prince, Ty Nordby, Gavin Fitterer and juniors Brady Bender and Hunter Wolf. Those seven helped New England collect a 41-7 record over past two years.
Before taking the head coaching job, Powers spent two seasons as an assistant.

After the 2009-2010 season, Powers moved to Connecticut to take job as the director of basketball operations at BlueStreak Sports Training. He soon moved back to Dickinson and the head coaching job was open in New England.

The coaching job for the Tigers wasn’t highly touted as the program had only won a combined 14 games in the previous five years.
Powers helped New England to 17 wins in his first season at the helm. In five years, he has amassed an 84-31 record with only one losing season in 2012-13 when the team went 11-12.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of applications being thrown in for the head coaching job, but I knew there was some potential,” Powers said. “I’ve had an opportunity to win a lot of games, but what I’m most proud of in my time in New England is our player development. All of our kids that come through the program are improving at a really high rate. That’s something that I’m really proud of.”
During Powers’ tenure, he’s had some standout players which included Kaine Hanson - the Region 7 senior athlete of the year in 2012 - Nick Wolf, who initially signed to play basketball at Dickinson State, and Clarence Binstock, a two-time all-Region 7 player who finished his high school career as an 82 percent free-throw shooter.
Hunter Wolf grew up watching his older brother help New England reach the Region 7 Tournament but fall short of the championship game.
“We just want to play well at the state tournament,” he said. “We want to show the town what we are made of.”
Powers was named Region 7’s coach of the year this season and said the award is a reflection of the players.
After all, the Tigers have four players averaging double digits in points.
“In order to win that award in this region, you have to be surrounded by great kids that are willing to work hard and buy into your program,” Powers said. “For me on that award, it was something the kids won for me because of their hard work.”
Most fans see Powers pace up and down the sidelines throughout contests.
Powers doesn’t spend much time sitting in any game. Though Powers might appear to be a strict head coach, New England senior forward Mason Stang said it’s the complete opposite.
“He’s a really good guy off the court when we aren’t practicing or playing,” Stang said. “Everyone thinks he’s so hard on us, because they only see the game side of him. There are two completely different sides to him. When we are in the game, he’s hard on us, but that’s to make us better and get us to do things right way. In practice, he’s pretty loose. He’s a really good coach and he knows what he’s talking about.”
Though Powers has coached a majority of the team since they were in grade school, the Tigers have three transfers this season juniors Christian Kilwein and Dakotah Mansfield, and sophomore Cody Holt.
Kilwein, who transferred from Hettinger, watched Powers coach and didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at practice the first day.
“I knew coach Powers through Optimist tournaments and playing in Hettinger, and I thought he’d be a lot more crazy,” Kilwein said with a smile. “He’s a lot more normal and down to earth than a lot of people make him out to be.”

Finally reaching state

At the New England High School gymnasium, John Urlacher has looked at the wall which displays all of the Tigers’ district, region and state achievements over the years.
The Tigers’ group of five seniors will finally add to the wall. The last banner under boys basketball was hung in 1997, when the team won the Region 8 Tournament and placed sixth at the state tournament.
“We will be remembered in this school just like all the other banners that are up there,” said Urlacher, who averages 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and two assists per game. “It’s been a long since the last time, so I’m happy.”
One of the newest members to Powers’ coaching staff, assistant coach Bruce Bender, has been in the same position with the Tigers in three previous state tournaments - 1985, 1996 and 1997.
Bender said the most unique quality in the four trips to state is he has gone with a different head coach each time.
“It’s kind of ironic that I’ll be there four times with four different head coaches,” he said. “It’s going to be a hectic week, but we just have to take it one game at a time. We know we can’t look by anyone. We have to take care of business the first night.”
Powers wanted to bring Bender on as an assistant because of his knowledge and experience coaching during big situations.
“Bruce helps out a lot and he has a ton of experience,” Powers said. “He’s done a great job and he’s helped us out a ton.”
The Tigers received plenty of support from the town throughout the regular season and especially after the Region 7 championship.
The parking lot at New England High School was packed last Thursday as fans welcomed home the state-bound team. Holt said it was an extremely special moment to be greeted by many members of the community.
“It’s great to see how much support the community has for everybody,” he said. “Everybody is just amazing.”
Daniel Prince, who is the Region 7 senior athlete of the year and leads the Tigers with 15.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, said the feeling of playing in the state tournament is still sinking in.
The No. 4-seeded Tigers open the state tournament against LaMoure-Litchville-Marion at 7:15 p.m. today.
“I’m so glad we aren’t done with practice and I get to spend another week or so with these guys,” Prince said. “It’s an awesome feeling. Hopefully, we can do something special at state too.”


Low numbers, no problem

According to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, New England has a high school enrollment of 69, which is the second-lowest number in Region 7. Mandaree is the smallest school with 44 kids.
New England will also be the smallest school participating in the Class B state basketball tournament.
“Everyone around the whole town is decorating their houses, they are putting signs up in their yards and we even have a bus for the parents to go down in that’s all painted up,” New England junior guard Brady Bender said. “It’s really special.”
New England also has the lowest population of the cities represented at the state tournament.
“People were real excited about the program at the beginning of the year, but people are thankful, because of all the hard work that the kids put in,” Powers said. “They understand that it took a lot to get where we are. We’ve had people thank us. They had the state football championships in the ’90s and they went to state basketball a couple times in the ’90s. That was close to 20 years ago. Mason Stang had a quote before the regional tournament that he wanted to bring the glory back to New England and it made me laugh, but that’s exactly what they did. The whole town is going to be empty this weekend, because they’ll be in Bismarck rooting for the Tigers.”

McGregor is the sports editor of The Dickinson Press. Call him at 701-456-1214 and tweet him at SirRoyal.

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