Kiess is the engine that powers Warriors

Montoursville’s Owen Kiess dribbles down the court during a game earlier this season against Jersey Shore. Kiess has been a huge reason the Warriors have had success this year and are district champions.

Owen Kiess grabbed the District 4 Class AAAA championship trophy and held it high so all could see it. This was a moment he and his teammates dreamed of. It was a moment Montoursville fans had dreamed of since 1985.

And it almost was a moment that never happened.

Kiess seriously considered not playing basketball this season. The senior thought maybe he should concentrate on baseball since he will play collegiately at Lackawanna Junior College next spring. Montoursville sure is glad he changed his mind.

Take away Kiess and no way is Montoursville a district champion for the first time in 33 years. This is a true team, one which seemingly has a different hero every night. It stayed that way last Friday when Montoursville defeated Mifflinburg, 46-32, and captured that elusive championship. But Kiess is the engine helping power this team and his finger prints literally and figuratively are all over that championship.

“He’s our rock,” forward Tyler Reidy said after recording a double-double against Mifflinburg. “He controls the offense. All year he has been there for us.”

Kiess is the only starter back from last year’s team. He, Reidy and guard Luke Warnecke were the only players who received significant varsity minutes a year ago and coach Mike Mussina was planning on making him the team’s point guard.

Had Kiess not come out, it could have been a crippling blow for this relatively inexperienced team. Instead, he decided to make the most of his last basketball season and Montoursville now has left a huge mark on program history. He is part of a team that has won more games than any Montoursville team since 1995, a team that won that finally won that elusive championship and a team that has made doubters eat their words all season long.

“I wanted to focus on my college baseball career, but the colleges coaches said it would be best to play one last year because I wouldn’t get a chance to do that again,” Kiess said. “Thank God I did because I have a district championship. Right now it is the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Kiess never played point guard at the high school level before this season, but one can hardly tell. He has smoothly run an efficient and balanced offense from Day 1. Kiess averages 12.6 points per game and also is among team leaders in assists, rebounds and steals.

Stats, though, do not measure Kiess’s value. He brings all the intangibles. Kiess is a strong defender, a calming influence and someone who seems to play his best at the most pressure-packed moments.

“He’s been our leader the whole year. He keeps it together,” coach Mike Mussina said. “He keeps them under control and he plays tough. He takes the tough defensive assignments and does all the things you wish every kid would do.”

Kiess did that last year as well, but missed some time with injuries. Things have gone smoother this time and Kiess has made a smooth adjustment. He can attack the basket, thread a defense, hit the 3-pointer and rebound like someone much taller. Kiess can make an impact without scoring and did just that against Mifflinburg when he was held to four points, but dealt five assists and grabbed five rebounds while helping limit 1,000-point guard Tanner Stoltzfus to four points.

Montoursville trailed 19-13 at halftime, but Kiess hit a game-tying 3-pointer early in the third quarter and moments later the Warriors took a lead they never relinquished. He also hit another clutch free throw late, something he has done game after game this season.

Kiess is 21 of 23 at the foul line this postseason and went 10 for 10 in a 52-46 district quarterfinal win against Shamokin. He made eight straight foul shots in the closing two minutes, something he also did against Loyalsock in a dramatic 42-36 win last month.

“At halftime I had to remind the boys there is a bigger purpose for (Friday’s) game. We are playing for (cancer fighter) Callie (Cavanaugh),” Kiess said. “To get a championship for her is so awesome. It was motivation for us. We just needed to come together and embrace each other and that’s what we did.”

It is not surprising that Kiess led with his words at halftime. It also is not surprising that he has led through his actions all season. Kiess plays only one way and that’s full throttle.

It does matter whether it is a game of practice. It does not matter if Montoursville has a huge student section cheering it on, or if nobody is watching at all. Kiess is going to set a tone and his teammates follow it. They all are fighters and the player who almost wasn’t sets the tone.

“At the beginning of the year Owen was thinking about not playing and we all said that we needed him to go out,” Bower said after scoring a game-high 16 points against Mifflinburg. “He goes out and gives 100 percent every, single day. He always gives it his all. He reflects on all of us a lot.”