March 10, 2008

Gatens celebrates state title

For three years, Matt Gatens had to watch as other teams celebrated a state championship in Des Moines. But, the three years of frustrating ends to a season were wiped out on Saturday evening as Gatens and Iowa City High won the 4A title over Davenport Central. On Sunday, the emotions were still at the surface for the future Hawkeye.

"Just talking about it or thinking about it gives me goose bumps," Gatens said on Sunday afternoon. "The feeling was something I had never felt before. It was just so much fun playing with this group of guys. It has been great working with those guys every day and I am going to miss it. I wouldn't have wanted to accomplish this with anyone else."

The 6-foot-4 guard/forward led City High with 24 points in the 64-54 win over Central and was honored as the captain of the All Tournament Team in 4A. He says winning the title is like a dream come true.

"The whole experience was probably more than I had imagined. I had dreamed about winning state, but I wasn't sure it was ever going to happen after my first three years. I had never been to state, so getting there was the first goal and then ending up winning it all was a dream come true."

All season long, the Little Hawks were a marked team for everyone in the state and they completed their season with just one loss, ironically that was to 3A champion Dubuque Wahlert. As the clocked started to tick down 27 seconds left, Gatens finally let himself smile as he stood at the foul line knocking down his 12th and 13th free throws of the contest.

"I was really so into the game that I really didn't sense it until I was at the foul line with about 27 seconds left, but even then I wasn't quite sure with the way that E.J. Hicks was shooting the ball. But, I looked over at John (Lickliter) and Zach Derby and we started smiling," he said.

After the game, the celebration continued as the team emerged from the locker room and Gatens searched for the man who introduced the game he loves to him, his father, but it took a bit longer for the two to connect.

"I guess he thought that we weren't coming out, so he went to the hotel where we were having a little gathering and I finally found him there. It was a pretty emotional moment when we finally got to share a hug."

The celebration lasted late into the evening and Gatens said he didn't let the championship trophy out of his sight until the very end, but he also took the time to share a moment with his future coach, Todd Lickliter, who was in the stands watching his son, John, celebrate a state title.

"I talked to Coach Lickliter afterwards and shared a very nice moment. He was very proud of us, his son, and we accomplished as a team. We both said we are looking forward to working together the next four years."

Hawkeye fans are hoping that Gatens and Coach Lickliter will be celebrating in similar fashion in the next four years with a Big Ten title in Iowa City.

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