(Photo by Tracey Peplinski)
Story by Paul Lecker
AUBURNDALE — The eight seniors that make up the playing rotation for the Auburndale boys basketball team have dreamed of this opportunity since they started playing together in fifth grade, some for even longer.
The dreams will be realized Thursday night as the Apaches will take the floor at the Kohl Center in Madison as part of the Division 4 field at the 100th WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament.
Auburndale (19-7) will play undefeated Mineral Point (26-0) in the second of two Division 4 semifinals Thursday night at approximately 8:15. Three-time defending champion Whitefish Bay Dominican (23-3) will play Eau Claire Regis (26-0) in the other semifinal at 6:35 p.m. Both games will be televised live on WAOW-TV 9 of Wausau, and the Auburndale game will be broadcast on WOSQ-FM 92.3 and wdlbwosq.com.
The comradery the Apaches have might be the single biggest reason they are still playing at this point in the season.
“It’s awesome,” senior forward Josh VanSchoick said. “We’ve been dreaming about this ever since fifth grade. It’s where you want to end your senior year, and we got it.
“We’ve always been a close-knit group, nothing has ever taken us apart. I think this brings us together even more.”
Auburndale reached the state tournament with a thrilling 34-32 victory over Brillion in a sectional final at Appleton East last Saturday as VanSchoick scored the game-winner with just over six seconds left. Brillion knocked out the Apaches in the sectional final a year ago, handing them just their second loss of the season.
The seniors on this year’s team were sophomores the last time the Apaches made it to state. Two years ago many of them suited up for the postseason games and saw time on the floor at the end of both the state semifinal and championship game, which they lost to Dominican.
Guard Matt Nikolay was the only one of that group that saw extensive playing time as he spent his entire sophomore season as one of the Apaches’ top reserves off the bench.
The drive to get the entire group to state started a long time ago. Back in 2003 and 2004, when these seniors were in kindergarten and first grade, Auburndale had back-to-back state tournament appearances.
“In elementary school, when your high school team goes to state, you get really excited about it,” said Nikolay, who leads Auburndale in scoring (16.7 points per game), assists, and steals, and is second on the team in rebounding. “You’ve always kind of had that dream that, ‘We want to go.’ You put in the work throughout the years, and going twice in my high school career just makes a great difference.”
On the east end of the Auburndale High School gymnasium, there are pads on the wall commemorating the two state championships (1993 and 2000) and three runner-up finishes (1995, 2003, 2013) that the boys basketball program has produced.
In this, the 10th overall state tournament appearance (all since 1991), bringing home another gold or silver trophy and adding to that wall is what these players are thinking about.
“It means the world,” said senior forward Alex Marth, who leads the team in rebounding (5.8) and is second in scoring (10.8) “It would be amazing to bring home another ball, even if it’s a silver one. A gold would be phenomenal. To put another pad up there would be amazing. You could walk into this gym and see that you accomplished something. You got second or first.”
Twenty of Mineral Point’s 26 victories this season have been by double-digits, and the Pointers start five seniors.
Four of them average between 10 and 15 points per game, and four players have made more than 35 3-pointers this season.
Point guard Sy Staver leads the team at 14.7 points per game, and 6-foot-4 forward Tarek Oellerich averages 13.7 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds per contest.
“They are 52-1 the last two years, so we know they are good,” coach Chad Weinfurter said. “They are just like us, a senior-laden team. We’re the underdog again, which is fine. We’ve embraced that role. It’s something new for us compared to the last few years. It’s another big task for us. When you can put four shooters on the floor, it’s tough to defend.”
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)
2015 WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament
At Kohl Center, Madison
Thursday, March 19
Division 4 semifinals
Eau Claire Regis (26-0) vs. Whitefish Bay Dominican (23-3), 6:35 p.m.
Auburndale (19-7) vs. Mineral Point (26-0), approx. 8:15 p.m.
Saturday, March 21
Division 4 championship game, approx. 12:45 p.m.
*All state tournament games will be televised on WAOW-TV 9 of Wausau. The Auburndale game will be broadcast on WOSQ-FM 92.3 and wdlbwosq.com.