(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
HOCKINSON -- It can all be traced back to Jack's court.
Years before the Hockinson boys basketball team qualified for this week's Class 2A state tournament, there were pickup games outside Jack Klodt's house.
On any given day since the fifth grade, Klodt might have been on that court with Alan Haagen, Taylor Rennaker, Nate Gunderson, Jess Krahn, Taylor Ellensohn or Casey Turner.
Those seven kids have become the senior group leading one of two Clark County teams still alive in the Elite Eight of a state tournament.
Hockinson opens play in Yakima at 9 p.m. Thursday against Lynden, ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press 2A state poll. Hockinson is ranked No. 7.
Along the way, there have been buzzer-beaters, clutch comebacks and riveting rivalry games.
And it has all been a blast. For Hockinson's seniors, a tense game doesn't feel too different from an afternoon of trick shots and alley oops on Jack's court.
"Some teams we play against aren't having as much fun," Rennaker said. "On the court, we want to win, but we're also having fun."
Beyond the fun, those years together give Hockinson's players a competitive advantage, especially late in games.
"That's where the chemistry shows," Hockinson coach Trevor Person said. "They know where and when the others are going to cut to the basket."
That connection has made the difference in two close games this season when trophies were on the line. The first came at the Surf 'n Slam winter holiday tournament in San Diego.
In the championship game, the Hawks trailed North Union of Ohio 58-56 with three seconds left. Person drew up a play that involved three of the seniors.
Krahn inbounded to Klodt at the top of the key. He passed to Haagen, who was sprinting down the sideline. Haagen caught, shot and hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
The senior connection paid off again on the final day of the 2A Greater St. Helens League season. Trailing Washougal 52-51, Haagen found Krahn cutting to the hoop for the winning basket with one second remaining. That victory wrapped up a share of the league title with Mark Morris.
Hockinson is led by Haagen, the 2A GSHL co-player of the year. Klodt received first-team honors and Gunderson got second-team recognition.
But the strength of this senior group is in the sum of its parts.
"This group has set the tone for the whole program," Person said. "You don't always have to be the most talented. Hard work and teamwork are the keys to success."
That senior group has found a connection with Person, a first-year head coach who was hired after Matt Gruhler became Skyview's head coach after three years leading the Hawks. Person had worked with many of the Hockinson seniors at Dan Dickau's summer basketball camp.
"After last season everyone was pretty upset knowing Coach Gruhler wouldn't be there for our senior year," Haagen said. "But many of us had known (Person). He's been great. He didn't disappoint at all."
Person never worried about not fitting in at Hockinson.
"I wouldn't have applied for the job there wasn't this close community that we have in Hockinson," he said.
Now that community and its seven seniors will head east for what they hope will be three more games together.
But whatever different roads those seniors take after this season, each one leads back to Jack's court.