Bopper Stenzel won’t be a stranger when he steps on the court at Rupp Arena Wednesday night. He will be in familiar territory.
Stenzel, a senior, was a starting guard on the Cardinals’ state tournament team last season and returns to the Sweet Sixteen to conclude his prep career. His brother Robbie Stenzel, now at Eastern Kentucky University, played his final game for Clark at Rupp Arena last year.
During the past couple of days, Stenzel has been offering advice to a cast of newcomers who will step into the limelight after watching the prestigious event from the sidelines last season. The team’s starting cast includes two members of the team – Dominic VanCleve and Taylor Howard – who weren’t on the court during the team’s state tournament appearance a year ago.
Stenzel has been giving VanCleve, Howard and others pointers on how to handle the atmosphere in the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team’s home venue.
“I’ve told them not to be nervous,” he said earlier this week. “We’ve just got to go out and treat it like it’s another game.”
Stenzel’s classmate Adam Fatkin agreed.
“You can’t pay attention to where you’re at,” he said. “I know it’s hard to do, but you have to take it like a regular game.”
Clark (30-5) won its first-round games during previous state appearances in 2011 and 2007 and faces an Owensboro Apollo squad that lost to Daviess County 68-54 in the finals of the 9th District Tournament, but caught fire during the 3rd Region Tournament to earn a spot in the state tournament. Apollo escaped with a 52-51 triumph over Ohio County in the opening round, rolled past Meade County 82-55 in the regional semifinals, before concluding a successful run in the region with a 64-62 triumph over Muhlenberg County in the finale.
“They’re playing their best ball of the year, right now,” Humphrey said. “You’ll see a few of those (surprise) teams every year at the state tournament to where all season long, they don’t really live up to their expectations, but then when tournament time comes around, they catch fire, and Apollo has definitely did that.”
Fatkin said the Cards have been “focusing on Clark County basketball” and getting back “to the way we were at the beginning of the season.”
Since entering the postseason, Clark has won all of its games (five) by double digits and carries a seven-game winning streak into the contest against Eagles.
Stenzel remembers the Cardinals’ 56-39 win over Oldham County, followed by a 65-50 loss to Louisville Eastern in the quarterfinals. Aside from the two games, Stenzel recalled the size and scope of the arena.
“I just remember when you walk out on the court how big it is,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Stenzel hopes the craziness leads to more success this season.
“We’re ready,” Stenzel said. “We’ve been ready and it’s what we’ve been looking forward to all year.”