Tigers three-peat at Stover: Versailles hangs on to beat Dixon for third straight Stover Tournament title

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Versailles celebrates its third straight Stover Tournament championship on Saturday, January 10, in Stover.

Organized chaos may be one simple way to describe it.

Subbing five players in and out every few minutes, quickly getting shots up and running a full-court press the entire game to make their opponents uncomfortable is what Versailles has implemented on the court this season and it has yielded some positive results. 

That includes a tournament title as the Tigers survived a late push from Dixon Saturday night in a 79-75 win over the Bulldogs for a third straight Stover Tournament championship. 

“We just played hard and did not just come in here thinking we were going to be the best,” said Versailles junior Eli Gulyayev who led the Tigers with 18 points. “We had already done it twice, but we came here and it is a new season and new players and teammates so we just treat it as a new year and came to win.” 

As Versailles coach Jason Ollison approached a new season with his program, he knew he would have to try something different. The system the Tigers utilize has its roots from Grinnell College, a Division III school in Iowa that made this style of play a little more well-known with some of the high scoring games the Pioneers have put together over the years.

For Ollison, it came down to three factors. He noted the program had just graduated an All-State point guard in Coby Williams who was the primary ball-handler for the team the past four years, he wanted to develop some freshmen the program would need to contribute at a high level next season without too much pressure and the coach felt like he head 14 or 15 kids who could really play and he wanted to maximize their minutes. 

So far, the Tigers are averaging 88.9 points per game and have reached triple digits on the scoreboard twice in the first 10 games. They have also reached the 90s on two other occasions.

“This is a way we can account for all three of those variables we did not like and it has really been a positive thing for us,” Ollison said. “It has brought our team together closer, guys are rooting for each other way more than they ever have before and kids are taking ownership in what their job is within their group. I tis so fun for me to watch these kids make those strides and do those things because that is beyond basketball. That stuff teaches you how how to be a man and move on in your life.” 

And the coach also expects his players to go 100 percent every second they are on the court. After all, a substitute is never more than a few minutes away.

“The first couple of games we had a couple guys come off the floor and say, ‘Coach, I’m not tired,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s your fault,’ because we are asking you to go as hard as you can go for as long as you can go. If you are not tired when you come off the floor that is on you,” he remarked. “It has been adjustment for them, but I think they are doing a good job.” 

Gulyayev is one who is on board and he is one of 12 different Tigers who scored Saturday night.

“It is crazy,” the junior said of the new fast-paced system. “It is a lot faster and I did not know what to expect. I just believe in my coach and teammates and do what I have to do to help.” 

Versailles jumped out to a 22-11 lead after the first quarter, helped by the fact that the Tigers forced seven of Dixon’s 16 total turnovers in the frame, and maintained the advantage with a 39-31 lead at halftime. However, the Bulldogs eventually settled in and their ability to rebound and force some turnovers of their own allowed them to push back and take their first lead of the night in the fourth quarter. 

“Those were the two things we emphasized the most coming into the thing and we had some lulls where we did not rebound very well and turned the ball over a lot more than I liked,” Ollison said as his team coughed up the ball 25 times overall on the evening. “Overall, I was really proud because we had not spent a lot of time on late-game situation stuff. For us to come out and execute at the end of the game the way we did, I was really proud of the guys for that.” 

Dixon led by as many as six points in the final quarter, but Versailles found a way to keep its composure and regain the lead for good with 1:04 left in the game with a few free throws.

“He just told us to stay calm and that this was going to be a fun game,” Gulyayev said of Ollison’s message. “He just told us to keep our cool don’t worry about it and go have fun.” 

Ollison said there is no time to worry about the scoreboard until the last minute or so because any kind of second-guessing or hesitation will lead to mistakes or missed shots. 

“They are stating to figure that out and realize that is what is important,” the coach noted. “We had a little bit of that tonight, but it is a lot better than what it was before Christmas. We are making strides in the right direction and that is what this is all about- getting ready for February.” 

Senior Seth Newton knocked down 15 points for Versailles and scored 11 of them in the final quarter, including a 4-point play after hitting a 3-pointer he was fouled on. Senior Mikhail Gulyayev added 12 points, freshman Ryder Williams finished with nine and fellow freshman Tyrus Ollison added six points of his own. Mikhail and Newton were named to the All-Tournament Team along with Eli who was named Tournament MVP. 

“I did not expect it was going to go to me. I thought I was just going to come here, do my job and help my team win,” Eli said of the MVP honor.

And that kind of selflessness and team-first mentality is how the coach feels about these individual honors as well. 

“Those three guys did a lot for us in this tournament, but we are not emphasizing the personal stuff because it takes every single one of us. Those guys from Dixon are not getting winded if we don’t have Michael Vansell, Jackson Marshall or Ty Ollison out there running them up and down the floor, too,” the  coach pointed out. “I’m proud of those guys, they played really well and contributed, but that All-Tournament stuff should go to that whole group because they wore teams out and that is from the effort else guys were able to give.”

Ollison wanted to give credit to other coaches as well for this fact, too, because of the luxury that comes with a deep bench and being able to comfortably play 14 or 15 different Tigers on a consistent basis.

“They talked when the tournament started how they wanted to make sure we got it again and brought the trophy back home with us. To be able to do it with almost a whole new cast of characters each of these last three years, it is a testament to how hard these kids work and our coaching staff in developing our kids all the way down from our elementary coaches to our middle school coaches and the assistants I have here on varsity,” he stated.

As a senior, Mikhail has enjoyed that journey with his brother Eli and sharing the memory of another tournament title with him. It is a bittersweet year, knowing it is final year as a Tiger, but he’ll soak it all in. 

“It is coming to an end and in our front yard we’ve had this basketball goal so playing pickle ball with him to playing a high school basketball game, it is going to be upsetting but I’m actually excited for him,” Mikhail said of his final season. “He is going to to take on senior year without me and I’m ready to cheer him on every step of the way, coach him as I can and help him out.” 

Moving forward, one thing the coach would like to see improve is getting the ball to the next shooter when a defense forces his players to drive the ball. Overall, Ollison just wants his guys to keep plugging away and keep having fun.

“If these guys start stressing and pressing, it is not going the a fun time for them and they are not going to make shots. That is what this whole thing is predicated on is making shots and getting up and down the floor,” he said. “We just have to keep them relaxed, having fun and enjoying playing basketball.”

Versailles (6-4) will be back home Tuesday night with the momentum of a tournament title to face Buffalo (9-5) at 6 p.m. 

“It just starts with our bench,” Eli said of the road ahead for his team. “Have good energy coming off and when you are on the bench, just bring our energy to our teammates and fans.” 

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132