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AMHERST, Neb. — The stakes are high when the basketball calendar flips to March. The 24-1 Amherst boys basketball team enters the state tournament eager to win the program’s first title. When the pressure rises, all the Broncos need to do to find strength is glance at the team bench.

“I don’t start so I sit down right beside it every game,” senior Reilly Fisher said.

“It’s just really an important part of our day to day basketball season,” senior Scout Simmons said.

It’s a number 24 Amherst jersey bearing a nickname.

“We came up with the motto of Team Slink," head coach Eric Rippen said. "Obviously, we’re the Amherst Broncos, but we also play every game and every day and we come to practice every day for Talon.”

Three years ago, Talon Trampe was a promising freshman basketball player whose length inspired Coach Eric Rippen to assign a nickname.

“I just blurted out Slink because he reminded me of a Slinky," Rippen said. "You know, you stretch a slinky and it just keeps going on forever and I feel like when he extended his arms up or out it just looked like he went on forever.”

Late in the season while on track to set the school’s single-year block record, a surprise diagnosis sent Talon to the sidelines. Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, was affecting his heart. Talon opted for surgery in May 2020, hoping to regain his ability to play sports. He died suddenly a couple of weeks later. Teammates Scout Simmons and Reilly Fisher remember getting the call.

“I just laid down, didn’t say anything for probably five minutes, just sat there on the phone, didn’t even cry or anything. Just shock," Simmons said. "Then, came home and that’s when it really hit me. I’ll never see my best friend again.”

“I just lost it kind of," Fisher said. "I went silent, I didn’t say anything for I don’t know how long, a couple of hours probably.”

Talon would have been a senior this year. His memory helps bring perspective to his team.

“Like us seniors, we got a maximum of three games left," Simmons said. "We’ve been playing this game for 12 years… it goes fast and just not taking anything for granted.”

“He’s still a part of us and we carry him each and every day," Rippen said. "That’s really what our motivation going into every season was. But this year, with him being a senior, it’s just been a little bit more.”

Talon’s senior class has Amherst in prime position as the two-seed in Class C-2. They have one goal in front of them.

“We’ve been playing together since we were in 2nd grade," Simmons said. "Losing Talon as a freshman, it would mean so much to us to bring back the first-ever basketball gold medal to Amherst.”

“Oh it would mean everything to us. The last three years, it’s been our goal to win one, to win it for him,” Fisher said.

His coach has added a strand of net to Talon’s jersey for every tournament title claimed by the Broncos. He’s planning to add one more.

“Just know every day that Team Slink, we’re coming to Lincoln and we’re ready to give it everything we have and we won’t stop until we come home with the state championship,” Rippen said.