Culture of winning, team chemistry drives Westview High School boys basketball team
TOPEKA – Drive into Topeka and life seems to come at you at a reduced speed. Some travel by horse and buggy. Long stretches of farmland lead to a decided rural school. The surrounding atmosphere seems peaceful and unhurried.
Step into the Westview High School gym, and get slapped in the face with intensity.
“We’re going to try to play every game as hard as we can for 32 minutes,” junior forward Nick Rensberger said. “Not for 31. Not for 30. As hard as we can every minute we’re out there.”
Westview’s Warriors (16-1), tied for most wins in Indiana this season with 16-0 New Castle, are young and relentless. They play the game in a way typical of smaller schools, relying on sharp passing, strong shooting, tenacious defense and team chemistry.
The kids grow up around here thinking of basketball, of being part of the varsity, of seeing the packed crowd come out to watch them shoot down the big boys from Warsaw or Plymouth or even Kendallville.
“We’ve all grown up looking at the varsity players,” Rensberger said. “I remember sitting up there with my basketball friends when the team was playing at Bankers Life (Fieldhouse, 2014 state finals) and saying, ‘This would be so fun.’ We’ve all grown up with basketball. It’s a big part of life here.”
There’s a history of success. Westview, which had a high school enrollment of 416 students in the most recent Indiana High School Athletic Association report, has won 18 boys sectional titles, five regionals, three semistates and the 1999 and 2000 state championships.
The school’s most recent trip to the state finals in 2014 came when most of the current players were still in middle school. This year’s team remains young. Leading scorer Charlie Yoder is a sophomore, and the next three leading scorers (Elijah Hales, Rensberger and Josh Hostetler) are juniors.
But it’s a team that is already hitting its stride. Westview, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A last week, suffered its first loss of the season, a 56-52 overtime defeat to Fairfield on Friday, but bounced back to soundly beat Garrett on Saturday. Eleven of Westview’s opponents so far this season have been Class 3A or Class 4A schools.
The Warriors are small-school players, but with a big-school mindset.
“We try to schedule the best teams we can play,” Westview coach Rob Yoder said.
Yoder, now coaching his son Charlie, is in his 15th season at the school. He is a 1988 Westview graduate and played college basketball for Dennis Harp at Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, Texas, before returning to Topeka. He owns and operates Rob Yoder Construction Inc., and also runs several rental properties.
“That’s how we make a little money,” he said, then points to the practice court. “This is how we have a little fun.”
The secret to Westview’s success is not much of a secret at all. The Warriors rely on spacing and movement on offense, shooting threes when needed but not relying on the long-range ball. They have a better than 2:1 ratio of assists to turnovers and they have out-rebounded opponents by more than 100 rebounds.
Charlie Yoder leads the team with 18.6 points per game, Hales averages 13.9, Rensberger 11.7 and Hostetler 7.1. Rensberger leads in rebounding (5.7 per game) with Yoder (5.5) not far behind. Hales dishes out six assists per game, Yoder 3.2 per game and Kenton Weaver 2.3 per game.
“It’s the quality of the kids,” Rob Yoder said. “They’re really unselfish, and they have tremendous team chemistry. They play really hard and have some talent. You put all of those things together and you have a pretty good team.”
Rob Yoder also points to seniors Jeremiah Hostetler (currently sidelined with injury), Weaver and Sam Sharp as being strong leaders in the locker room.
“We knew before we even played our first game that it was possible (to have a special season), but it definitely wasn’t going to be easy to achieve,” Hales said. “We worked as hard as we could.”
Hales agrees with the premise that growing up watching Westview basketball inspires players to set high goals when they reach high school.
“We have a great atmosphere and a great gym,” Hales said. “As kids, we watched the older teams that were good in their own right and aspired to be them. That gives us extra motivation to work hard.”
Westview’s biggest win so far this season was a 54-53 win over Class 4A East Noble on Jan. 2. It is the only loss for East Noble (14-1) so far this season.
East Noble coach Ryan Eakins points to Hales’ skills at the point, Yoder’s knack for posting up and scoring and Rensberger’s physical presence as some of the most challenging aspects of dealing with Westview.
“All in all, they run their motion so well,” Eakins said. “They screen and move without the ball as well as any team around. They have a winning mentality and culture in their school and community and they expect to be in the win column every single game.”
Rensberger said Westview’s biggest improvement from last season has come in its ability to close out wins. The team also was motivated by a first-game sectional loss to Central Noble a year ago. Westview was 17-7 last season.
Expectations keep rising as Westview keeps winning. A possible postseason run remains in the back of the players’ minds, but they try to keep focused on the everyday grind.
Rob Yoder said the importance of basketball at Westview is apparent when he scouts other games and sees the difference in crowd size to the turnout at home games.
“This is a very special place to play to play,” Charlie Yoder said. “We’ve played with each other a long time and we know we can hang with anyone and compete.”