Senior guard still seeking trip to state
BY DAVID PEDERSEN
Zach Checkal is doing whatever he can to reach a goal he has been so close to achieving the past four years on the Delano boys basketball team.
The senior has been on varsity since his ninth-grade season when the Tigers have challenged for the section title all three years, placing second twice and losing to state champion Orono in the semifinals in the other.
The Tigers have a senior-dominated team that is undefeated after a recent 74-29 victory over Sauk Rapids-Rice. Between the end of the first half and early second half Delano ran off 34 straight points.
Checkal scored 18 points all in the first half. He added 16 rebounds and four assists. Toby Hanson and Damon Longstreet both scored 13 points. Other leaders have been Dalton Pulis, Adam Schleper, Zach Muckenhirn, Arick Neisen, Seth Norling and Seth MacLeod.
“Zach is very important to the team,” said coach Terry Techam about Checkal, who is averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals despite not being needed late in games. “He is a good leader because he leads by example. He is usually one of the hardest workers in practice every day and he has put in a lot of time in the off-season to make himself a complete basketball player.”
Checkal also usually guards the other team’s best player. Techam said he has a nose for the basketball to get steals or rebounds that most players would not get.
“When I was younger I was more of a role player,” said Checkal about trying to get the ball to other players. “This year I have stepped up to a bigger role where I first try to do whatever I need to score. Then I look for the open guy.”
The senior said that is one reason why the team’s 3-point shooting has been through the roof. It also helps to have “five guys who can hit 20 points on a given night.”
Checkal said the reserves have some lock down defensive players who can give the starters a breather.
Also a standout on the football field, Checkal said basketball is his favorite sport. He went out for track for the first time last spring to stay in shape for football and basketball.
“This year we have a good chance to take the next step,” said Checkal about getting to the state tournament. “We see every team in the section as beatable as long as we play to our ability.”
Most of the Tigers who played in the section title game last season returned this season. Checkal said it helped a lot as players got a feel for what the big game atmosphere is like.
“I am giving it everything I got because I want to get to state more than I can ever explain,” adds Checkal. “We have a team of all athletic guys who can force turnovers and read the defense to find ways to score easily. We have some offensive plays that work every time.”
The current offensive attack was put in two seasons ago and now it is second nature for the players. Checkal said he has learned it is better to get the ball to the open guys than to shoot with hands in your face.
Joining the track team has helped Checkal work on his jumping ability and quickness. He enjoyed competing in a different setting while hanging around with his friends.
At one time Checkal played on varsity with two of his brothers. It would have been great if they all could have made it to state, but at least he has a say if it will finally happen