Robbie Stenzel hasn’t forgotten the last time he played at Rupp Arena.
“I remember the first shot I made,” he said. “It was a three in the corner against Christian County in the second quarter. I remember making it. I yelled and jumped up and down.”
Stenzel, the school’s all-time leading scorer and now a senior, opened his prep career as an eighth-grader at Rupp Arena and will play his last game on that same floor this week when the Cardinals compete in the four-day event for the first time since 2007. The Cardinals (29-5) take on Oldham County in the tourney opener at noon Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
Stenzel helped lead Clark back to the state tournament last week when he scored 15 points in a 62-40 rout of Pendleton County in the 10th Region finals at Mason County High School. Stenzel scored 11 of his team’s first 13 points in the first quarter. Stenzel’s hot hand propelled the Cards to an easy victory over the Cinderella Wildcats.
“I knew we were going to win, but I wanted to make sure we won as easy as we could and do whatever I could to help us (win),” he said. “I was on fire in the first quarter and didn’t really score the rest of the game, but the rest of the guys picked it up.”
The “excitement” of winning the school’s eighth 10th Region title still lingers, but Stenzel likes the way the team is playing heading into the prestigious event.
“We know we have a new stage in front of it,” he said. “It’s emotional, but you’ve got to keep your mind right, don’t let the crowd affect how you play and don’t be scared. We have to stay together and play as a team. We can’t be selfish just because we’re satisfied about being at Rupp (Arena). We want to win the whole thing, and we’re unselfish enough of a team to do that. We have to show a lot of heart and focus, because you’ll never know when your last game will be. It could be one game into it if we don’t play focused and come ready to play.”
Stenzel said playing on the big stage can be intimidating, but once the game begins, it becomes more of a routine.
Stenzel said the Cards’ schedule has helped prepare the team for the task at hand.
“Once you get on the floor, you realize it’s just a game,” he said. “We’ve played more than 30 of them this year and (getting into the flow) comes easy.
“We’re really prepared. We think we’re one of the best teams in the state and we’ve got a shot of winning.”
Although it’s been four years since he’s competed in the state tournament, Stenzel remembers walking from the locker room to the court and said the feeling was “indescribable.”
“I couldn’t describe the feeling for the guys even if they ask me,” he said. “I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when we go out (on the court).”