After back-to-back final fours behind the leadership of Jahii Carson, the Mesa Jackrabbits found themselves a win short of the tournament last season. With a young and inexperienced team they took their licks but are finding the struggles they had a year ago, are pushing them through adversity this time around.
Mesa struggled shooting out of the gates on Saturday night in Round 2 of the state tournament against a very talented Dobson team but came out in the second half like a team that has seen adversity before and this time wasn’t going to let it push them down.
“Toughness,” stated Mesa senior guard D.J. Henderson after the 68-54 win over Dobson. “We weren’t tough last year, we were soft. So we kind of got pushed down and we didn’t fight through adversity. This year we are tougher so we are ready.”
“We did everything right last year,” added Mesa head coach Shane Burcar. “We were one win short of the playoffs but our seniors led us and this is why we are here because of our former players.”
People who have watched Mesa this season know that they are not short of talent on their roster. Along with senior Henderson is arguably the top sophomore in the state in Jalen Jenkins, who had 25 points in the win over Dobson, and junior big man Isaac Allen. But it is also the role players that step up for the team offensively and defensively that make this team special in 2012-13.
Mesa couldn’t hit a three to save their lives until wing Kale Abbott knocked down their first three of the night to break a 17-17 tie before half. It gave Mesa their first lead of the game. Then out of halftime, another role player, junior Christian Harris scored a fast eight points out of the gates in the second half to fuel the Mesa run that led to them moving on in the tournament.
“It’s a growing process,” explained Burcar. “We wanted it to happen a lot quicker but in fairness to these guys, Christian Harris, D.J. (Henderson), Isaac (Allen), Fel (Valazco), Dan (Richards), they’ve all grown up in the last year. And we stuck together,”
On many teams at all levels, it’s the stars of the team that are relied upon. It has been seen this season and to another degree on Saturday night that Mesa is a team full of players who know their roles and execute. And adversity for the Jackrabbits is welcomed with open arms.
Next up for Mesa is the Desert Mountain Wolves in the quarterfinals. The Jackrabbits fell to the Wolves by two at home back on January 8 in what was a great battle. It should be a similar ball game when they face off again Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena.