ALLIANCE — Mason Hiemstra was dangerous as a junior, but he knew that in order to have a breakout senior basketball season he had to do a lot of growing.
It wasn’t just about getting a few more shots up or an extra weight session in the summer. What he needed the most improvement on, Hiemstra said, was between the ears. His mental game needed to develop and that’s what he set out to do.
It clearly paid off for the recent Alliance High School graduate, who averaged 22.4 points per game throughout the course of the season and helped lead the Bulldogs back to Lincoln for the Class B state tournament.
For his efforts on the hardwood, Hiemstra has been voted the Star-Herald’s All-Region Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“My junior year, I let people affect how I played too much,” Hiemstra admitted. “Fans, the crowd, I let it get in my head and I was immature. I wasn’t ready to lead a team.”
Hiemstra had plenty of help working on his mental game as well. A former teammate, Owen Shelmadine, and head coach Michael Baker worked with him to block out the noise and keep his focus between the baselines.
“Without Owen Shelmadine there to help me stay relaxed, I wouldn’t of been the same player I was as a senior,” Hiemstra said. “Coach Baker helped a lot, too. Coming into my junior year, I was really mentally weak and he really helped me with that. I think that’s what helped me play better and lead the team more.”
It wasn’t just his scoring that increased with his much-improved mental game. He was at the top of every coach’s scouting report, game in and game out. Along with the 22.4 points per game average, he grabbed 6.5 rebounds, dished out 4.2 assists and swiped 3.2 steals — leading the Bulldogs in every one of those stat categories. He also shot at a clip of 32 percent from behind the 3-point line and was a solid free-throw shooter, hitting 124 out of 158 attempts.
Hiemstra scored 20 or more points in 17 games as a senior, with a game high of 34 in a win against Rapid City Christian.
But even heading into the 2018-2019 season, the whole team knew they were primed for a solid season. With only one starter graduating the year prior, the Bulldogs returned plenty of talent and experience for Hiemstra’s senior season. The tone for the season was set long before the first practice within the team, they were getting back to Lincoln. It didn’t take many games for Hiemstra and the Bulldogs to get locked in and show that they were ready to compete for a shot at state.
“We were all so locked in during the summer that there was no way we weren’t at least giving ourselves a better chance at making it to state,” Hiemstra said. “What really helped was that nine-game winning streak we went on at the end of December and beginning of January when we beat Bluffs and went to Cheyenne and went 3-0. That’s when we realized that we could do it.”
With Hiemstra leading the way, the Bulldogs finished the season with a 19-7 record, which included breaking a long-standing losing streak to Scottsbluff, and returned to Lincoln to play in the state tournament. It took winning a district final game on the road in a tough environment, but the Bulldogs made it back and garnered the respect of teams from the eastern half of the state. That, Hiemstra said, was one of the main goals entering the season.
“We wanted respect from the eastern side of the state,” he said. “Being from down here, that’s just how it goes. There was just no denying that we were making it back to Lincoln.”
His talents attracted the attention of colleges as well. Shortly after the season ended, Hiemstra signed with Hastings College to continue playing basketball. He wants to pursue a secondary physical education degree while playing for the Broncos.
Hiemstra is joined on the All-Region First Team by Bridgeport’s Drake DeMasters, Scottsbluff’s Conner McCracken, Torrington’s Jordan Malm, and Scottsbluff’s Jasiya DeOllos.
Bridgeport’s Nick Broz was named the Coach of the Year.