Vikings gain early lead, annihilate Titans

Noah Yuen and Benner Mullin

Junior shooting guard Spencer Rojahn serves as what is known as a “role player”— a team member who specializes in a particular skill set. Rojahn’s job? Shoot three-pointers— lots of them. Playing in his second consecutive season on the Palo Alto High School boys’ basketball team (16-2, 7-0), Rojahn and fellow three-point juggernaut junior guard Jared Wulbrun, have become the “splash brothers” of the Paly team. Rojahn provided the spark to the Vikings’ domination of the Gunn High School Titans’ basketball team (11-7, 2-5) on Friday, 79-36, hitting a couple three-pointers in the opening minutes, electrifying the crowd and setting the tone for the rest of the night. With half of the regular season in the books, the Vikings remain the top dogs in the De Anza League.

Junior guard Spencer Rojahn gets pumped up by fellow junior guard Brey Johnson pregame. Rojahn hit two early three-pointers on Friday against Gunn High School. Photo: Rachel Code
Junior guard Spencer Rojahn gets pumped up by fellow junior guard Brey Johnson pregame. Rojahn hit two early three-pointers on Friday against Gunn High School. Photo: Rachel Code

Over the course of play, Paly’s swarming defense proved to be too much to handle for the Titans. Midway through the second quarter, Paly scored on three consecutive stolen passes and did not allow the Gunn offense to pass the half-court line during those three possessions. A combination of the Viking starting lineups’ average height of just under six foot three inches and a strong press defense enabled Paly to play at its desired game tempo and forced countless Titan turnovers.

To accompany the exceptional play of the starting lineup,  junior point guard Will Schmutz subbed in for senior starting point guard and team captain Miles Tention in the second half and excited the crowd with 11 points of his own. “MVP” chants erupted from the Paly sections following each of Schmutz’s baskets. Also off the bench, junior guard Brey Johnson, junior center Bryant Jefferson, senior point guard Ethan Stern and senior guard Jack Simison added to the insurmountable Viking lead with a combined 25 points off the bench. Johnson added the exclamation point on the blowout win with a huge block on a Gunn guard during the closing minutes of the game.

The Titans struggled to find their groove on offense, ending the game without a double-digit scorer. Gunn senior forward Jeffery Lee-Heidenreich led the Titans with nine points, and senior guard Josh Radin poured in six of his own.

Paly head coach Peter Diepenbrock said the Vikings’ continued dominance has played a large factor in the team’s mindset moving forward.

“We’ve won eight games in a row and we keep improving so it’s huge,” Diepenbrock said. “This win reconfirms what we’re trying to do and it shows that we’re going in the right direction.”

Despite the lengthy winning streak, Diepenbrock has seen this story before and said the team needs to remain grounded after its successes. Last season, the Vikings headed into the Central Coast Section playoffs having won the majority of the match-ups leading up the first round of CCS but were defeated in the first round.

“That’s the challenge,” Diepenbrock said. “We have to be a much more mature team. Last year we couldn’t handle this so hopefully we will keep practicing hard and keep our focus because we have bigger goals than just to win the league.”

Junior forward William Schlemmer said the team needs to remain grounded despite the big win and understand that the Vikings will need to continue to improve in order to compete with some of their tougher opponents.

“We need to tower on half-court offense because the games we have difficulty in are those where the pace is slower and we can’t get buckets in transition,” Schlemmer said. “This game shows that we need to be able to play with the intensity of [the Gunn game] every game even though we might not be as excited because if we play as intensely as we do against Gunn, we are hard to stop.”

The Vikings outscored the Titans 21-2 in just under six minutes of play and continued to add to their lead, heading into the half with a sizable 38-18 advantage. Paly would go on to obliterate Gunn for the second and final time this year by a score of 79-36, beating the Titans by 14 more points that the matchup earlier this season. Diepenbrock encourages the Paly community to bring the same roaring energy to the Vikings’ next big match-up on Saturday at Menlo-Atherton High School.

“Get it done. How much fun could that be?” Depenbrock said. “Going into an opposing gym and having the [expletive] place covered. Go to [Menlo-Atherton].”

Up next for the Vikings are league rematches against teams the boys already defeated handily. On Tuesday, the Vikings face the Los Altos High School Eagles (10-9, 2-5) at Los Altos and on Friday, Paly faces off against the Wilcox High School Chargers (9-9, 4-3).