Emotions Run High at NPA Boys Basketball Senior Night.

Coaches and players reflect on the significance of Senior Night for six senior athletes.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The energy in the gym was electric as the NPA Spartans boys basketball team took on the Sedona Scorpions before celebrating the graduating seniors Saturday night.

The stands were packed with family, friends, classmates, and coaches there to honor all the 15 seniors (six boys and nine girls) playing one of the final games of their high school careers.

The Spartans did not disappoint, handily defeating the Scorpions 81-24 and improving their regular season’s 12-13 record. “It was a great win to start senior night,” said NPA head coach Brent Hanson.

“Senior night has always been, regardless of the number of seniors, it's always been about their showcase. It’s their time to do some shining, kind of strut a little bit. And I suppose we did some of that tonight.”

But the night's focus quickly shifted from the game itself to celebrating the contributions of the senior players over their years with the program. After the game, players and family members took center court as teammates and classmates gave touching tributes about each senior.

"Senior night is always about showcasing our seniors and honoring their commitment to the program and the school over several years," Hanson said. "It's not about the wins or the losses, it's not about the coaches. It becomes all about the players, specifically those senior athletes. And for many of them, they may not ever play in that gym again.”

The feeling of family extended beyond the court to the entire NPA community. "Our gym becomes a really special place to play in," Hanson noted, going as far as calling it “hallowed ground.”

“It's a gym, and it's a little space, but it's our space. And I think you could tell last night that it’s our home,” he said. "I've spoken to other teams and other coaches throughout the season, and they expressed how difficult it is for them to come in and win in our gym.”

Hanson got emotional when asked what that night meant to him, with so many seniors moving on.

"It’s a mix of sadness and pride at the same time," he admitted. “I don't know if a human word exists for that feeling, but it's sadness and lamentation coupled with pride and joy at the same time. I have no idea what to call that.”

The coach emphasized that beyond the skills and drills, he aimed to instill character, humility and a spirit of service in his players over their years together. Several seniors are already coaching youth teams or helping with other school programs.

"I hope they realize the greater reward that comes from being part of something bigger than themselves," Hanson said.

On Senior Night, the emotion and support flooding that gym created an unforgettable send-off Hanson won't soon forget.

“There’s a lot of lasts happening for these players,” Hanson said. “This is one of the first of those lasts, as they start to narrow down and dwindle down the final days of their high school hours and their high school careers. It invokes a lot of emotion to see your teammates for the last time like this."

What photographs can’t capture.

“I think what photographs probably can’t capture is the passing of the torch that is going on,” said Coach Hanson. “I see the other coaches leading the pregame or leading timeouts, and I see them growing in their ability to coach.


“There's a mental passing of the torch that happens from player to player in these final games of the season where younger underclassmen are seeing there's an end of an era occurring and that they're going to have to pick up the mantle and the torch and carry those things on in progression.”

The coach’s parting words to his seniors:

“One last thing I'd say to my seniors is thank you. Just thank you for committing to the program and for being a part of something bigger than yourselves,” Hanson said. “Thank you for showing up. Thanks for the incredible hard work that you put in every single day. Ultimately, as a coach, you hope – because you put so much into it as a coach – you just hope that it's reciprocated. And with these kids, it was reciprocated with the hard work and the dedication. And that's all you can ask for.”

Note from Sean: At this point in my conversation with Coach Hanson, I asked him to tell me a little about each player and what he hoped for them as they transitioned to the next phase of their lives. I started to summarize what Coach Hanson said about each player, but the words were too meaningful to edit out.

Below is the transcript from each player with minimal editing for punctuation and grammar.

Dylan Mortensen

“I've coached Dylan on and off since he was in third or fourth grade,” said Coach Hanson. “As a player, he's incredibly skilled at positioning himself for his teammates. He knows when to set a screen, which direction to roll off a screen, and when to pass up shots. He also knows how to receive the ball.


“He's incredibly adept at those fundamental things. This season, in particular, he's grown into a very good mid-range shooter. And, of course, he's by far the tallest on our team. So, he's grabbing shots, and he leads our team in block shots.


“He has a defensive presence on the court. Offensively, he’s a stalwart-type guy who always gets you buckets. He's always going to do the right thing on the court. He’s an incredibly smart young man.


“As a person, there's just not enough time to begin to describe him. We use the word GEM, to describe him. Because he's grown so much as a leader of these young men. He's vocal at the right time.


“He’s a crazy, godly example of unselfishness. He shows up to practice on time. He communicates well. He leads. He's a captain, a natural captain. He leads us and our team in so many things. There's so much that he does that doesn’t show up in a box score on a stat sheet. The best word for him is he's a gem.”


Ethan Mackay

“I started coaching Ethan in the Upward Basketball program days,” said Coach Hanson. “If you remember the days we played ball at Trinity Heights. He was in second or third grade when I started coaching his basketball.


“I call him a defensive juggernaut. He’s the one guy who absolutely says (I don’t have to tell him), he says, ‘I want to guard the best guy on the court’ every night. And we play against some tough competition at our level. We played against some of the top teams in the state this year. And he is all about it.


“I think he started to lead our whole team in charges taken during his sophomore year.


“He's able to get to the rim, and because he's got to the line, that means he's often getting fouled again. But he's willing to sacrifice his frame and body for the team at the expense of his own self. He puts himself in harm’s way and does whatever is best for the team – for something bigger than himself.


“He leads our team this year in free throw percentage, and he leads the team in humility.


“We have this expression on the team that we want to instill from freshman year. We want the response from the kids to be, ‘yes coach,’ or, ‘no coach,’ right? It instills respect and uniform conduct and maintains team continuity.


“During his senior year, he was a true example to others. When he’s told to come out of the game, he says, "Yes, coach." When it's time to come off the bench, he says, "Yes, coach." He's getting subbed out, he says, "Yes, coach." I want you to guard this guy; he says, "Yes, coach."


“He's just a great, great kid to have on the team. He's also one of our captains this year. And he's such a young man of principle. He lives by a code. And he follows God with his whole heart.


“He reminds me a lot of myself with the defensive mentality and the principles he chooses to live by.


“What do I hope for him? You know, I hope that he continues to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. No doubt, he'll end up with a family. I hope he continues putting himself second in his career and family life. And I hope he continues to never forsake his principles as he lives.”


What did Senior Night feel like (what did it mean to you)?


“Senior night felt unreal to me,” said Ethan. “I couldn't believe I was already a senior and this was my last basketball home game. It seemed like I was a freshman just yesterday. It was so special that so many people worked so hard to make us feel appreciated.”


How has the NPA basketball program influenced who you are?


“The NPA basketball program has been a huge part of my life,” said Ethan. “Coach Hanson has the best postgame talks. He does an amazing job tying in life lessons to basketball. He has helped me to grow and to learn so much. Basketball has helped me grow into a man. I have learned humility and unselfishness because I am never the top scorer. I have learned how to handle disappointment. The most important thing I learned with the NPA Basketball Program was about long-lasting friendship. We truly did become a family as the season went on.”


Henry Troutman

“I coached Henry Troutman in middle school ball at NPA,” said Coach Hanson. “Henry was one of those kids who you could see coming up through the ranks. He’s a jack-of-all-trades kind of kid.


“He dips his toes in the water of different sports. Then, he runs with it and excels at whatever he's passionate about. And basketball was one of those things, thankfully for us. He possesses an amazing, deep well of energy.


“He is like that on the basketball court. He takes things personally. If someone beats him downhill at the bucket, he'll try to get them back on the next play. Otherwise, he'll get a stop on the next play.


“If our team isn't performing well, he is the guy that's going to take it personally. He'll lead the team through that dilemma or whatever's going on. And he'll do it vocally and through his play. When I say he takes it personally, I mean he invests everything he has in himself. He does this to do the right thing on the court.


“He’s an incredibly hard worker, and he's got the speed and the intensity to match it. It's like a foot race. We're in the backcourt, and there are a couple of players equal to him from the defensive side, but there’s no one in the state I'd put up against Henry Troutman to get it down the court faster.


“You know, he hates to lose, too. He hates to lose. You know, he really does. He's vocalized that before.


“During a timeout, he's the guy who will start talking to the team. And I'll back up and let him run it because he has so much to share about what he's seeing out there on the court. Ultimately, that's much more valuable than what I would share. He has first-hand experience of what's happening on the court.


“He's also one of our captains and has this contagious smile and energy. We had three captains this year. He's one of our captains for the Varsity squad. And I'd say he's probably been a captain more so for, like, the whole program. He’s the one that all the kids look up to, underclassmen alike.


“I hope that he finds something to keep him incredibly active. I hope he finds a place where he can safely use all this energy. And I hope that it's within the sports realm. I do hope that he continues pursuing basketball, baseball and soccer.


“I hope he finds what he loves to do within the college setting somewhere. And then I hope that he continues to take things personally in his life. I hope he does it in an incredibly healthy way because he's got so much passion and so much energy to give.


“He really is a selfless young man. I hope that those traits continue to be fostered. And my hope, too, is that I get to see it, that I get to be a part of it. That he allows me that window into his life, into adulthood.”


Hudson Purcell

“Hudson Purcell has only been playing basketball for a couple of years,” said Coach Hanson. “He moved around a lot as a young man, even to other countries like Australia. And finally, now at NPA, he found a home.


“In basketball, he found another family. As a basketball player, he’s had to quickly improve his skill and knowledge because they weren't there when he came here.


“This year, he became the smoothest basketball player. He'll bring it up the court against the defense. He's not going to commit turnovers. I'll bark at him from the sideline, like, 'Hey, one more pass.' And I'm thinking he should swing it. Instead, he throws a crazy overhead pass across the court to the corner. Someone who was open, but I didn't see, catches it. And I'm like, dang. He has great court vision.


“He has incredible court sense and vision. You would not expect that from someone who's played so little basketball.


“His shooting ability is fantastic. He stepped into a starting role for us in the second half of the season. He is a real offensive threat. He's able to get past defenders, and he’s just incredibly smooth with the ball. Very smooth.


“I hope he continues his senior year with this identity. He's part of a family. I hope he understands that he is loved and respected by his peers, which he truly is. I hope for him, whether it's college or the workforce, I believe he's going to college, just that he carries that mindset with him. He needs others around him to motivate and push him.


“And I hope he finds a team of some sort that he can become a part of that's healthy for him as he transitions to his next age.”


Luke Applin

“Luke Applin is a kid who played his freshman year,” said Coach Hanson. “He didn't play his sophomore year. Then, in his junior year, he played on JV. After that, boom, varsity, as soon as he steps onto the court. We didn't know what we were going to do with Luke.


“Luke was a wild card. He had grown in height so much. We were like, ‘I guess he's going to be our second big’ – which was great because we desperately needed more size. When he started to play in the games, he had the same incredible energy as some of our better players, like this incredible energy.


“As the season progressed, he worked with some of our other coaching staff to improve his skills. As a result, he started to play an important role in our offense. He's not just a guy who's going to show up and be a big down center and pass it and be a defender. No, he will turn the corner, get to the bucket, and score some points.


“And then on the court – the greatest thing about him is his smile and his laughter. He was the one who said, my goal is for us to become a family. And he has absolutely done that. His laughter and his smile are contagious. He makes everyone around him happy to be there, even when things aren’t good. We've had some tough losses this year, and we’ll be on the van ride home; you can hear him laughing with this joy.


“And then you realize that joy is not circumstantial. It’s because of Luke. Happiness does not come from external influences. It comes from inside yourself. And he has an unending well of joy inside of him.


“It’s been really exciting to tap into that as a coach. You get to see that kind of energy spread infectiously to the other kids on the team. It is a testament to who he is. It's an incredible thing to witness.


“I told Luke I really hope that we can continue our journey together down the road. We can continue to laugh with each other into adulthood. But my hope for him is just that he never loses his joy. I hope when he goes on to his next stages that he takes this healthy well of joy with him and just enjoys life.


“I hope he enjoys life to the fullest. If there’s a verse that I could share with him, it would be this. I pray that you have life, and you have it abundantly. I hope for an abundant life for him.”


Sawyer Gordon

“Sawyer Gordon has played basketball for a while,” said Coach Hanson. “It's been his main sport his whole life. He's an ambidextrous kid. But most of all, he behaves like a professional on the court. That means he's all about hard work, determination, and the growth of his skills and the team.


“No other word describes it. He's just a pro. He's not going to be the kid that's out there joking around. He's going to be the opposite of that. He's going to be getting after his teammate, saying, hey, no, take this seriously because we need to win this game.


“He’ll say: We need to do A, B and C tonight. I need you to take it seriously. And he'll hold his team accountable. At pregame speeches, at timeouts, he’s telling them, ‘Let’s box out, guys. We need to get more defensive rebounds.” And I'm like, yep, I second that. But he's been the guy, over the course of his whole career, that will get you points.


“He will get you rebounds. He's a ‘do it all for you’ player. He really is. He’s started a whole bunch of games for us. He actually started almost all of his games his junior year on varsity. He's going to be the player that, because of his dedication, passion and commitment to the sport, is going to be really, really hard to say goodbye to at the end of the season because he's been such a great leader. 


“He's been a leader for us in so many categories and in so many ways.


“But professionalism isn’t as contagious as laughter. So, it hasn’t always been easy for Sawyer. This season, though, with more seniors on the team, his professionalism, or diligence, has been much better received. This is because of the higher level of maturity on the team.


“Sawyer’s engagement with basketball has always been very mature. It's not just about a game. It's not just about playing, about having fun. This is varsity athletics. He understands that. He wants to elevate himself and his team to a higher standard.


“I totally respect that as a coach. And I get behind him and behind that mentality. At times, I'll help push that forward with the rest of the team. And then, of course, that gives him more credibility when he speaks.


“The joke on the team is that he must have this set of keys to the gym because he's always practicing. He's always getting good. So, what I hope for him is that he gets a set of keys to wherever he goes next.


“My hope is that he continues to grow because healthy things grow. And if it's not in basketball, it's in some other way. My hope is that he continues to find ways to experience happiness with the game or even that maybe he finds another sport that he's really happy with.


“But I think it's going to be basketball, at some level, for him and into his college life. And I hope he continues to grow and finds joy and happiness in his next stage.


“I hope he keeps in touch, and I get to witness some of those things that happen in his life. You know, with his dad being a coach with me for so long, Coach Gordon, I'm sure I'll have a window into that.”


Ethan Mackay's 2024 senior basketball banner created by Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw
Dylan Mortensen's 2024 senior basketball banner created by Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw
Henry Troutman's 2024 senior basketball banner created by Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw
Hudson Percell's 2024 senior basketball banner created by Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw
Luke Applin's 2024 senior basketball banner created by Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw
Sawyer Gordon's 2024 senior basketball banner created by Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw

Sean Openshaw is a Flagstaff photographer and storyteller. Sean combines photos, videos and words to help you capture what a moment means, not just what it looks like.