Four basketball teams say goodbye to 17 local senior boysThe high school boys basketball season has come to an end in Wisconsin, and with it 17 local seniors have played in the final game of their high school careers. And while the seniors will not be competing with their teams next year, they will leave a legacy behind.
By: Emily Kram, The Daily Telegram
The high school boys basketball season has come to an end in Wisconsin, and with it 17 local seniors have played in the final game of their high school careers. And while the seniors will not be competing with their teams next year, they will leave a legacy behind.
“I love the fact that our gym gets filled on game nights,” said Dave Kontny, SHS head coach. “It’s a tribute to all the seniors as well as their teammates. If the fans only knew how hard they worked and how much time they have put in during the offseason, they would be even prouder.”
Kontny’s words refer to this year’s Spartans, but they also apply to all 17 players who have played their final basketball games. Whether a starter or a role player, each senior graduating from the four local teams will be remembered.
“Success is not only measured by wins, it is measured by hard work, team unity, sportsmanship, discipline and pride,” Kontny said. “Each of these young men fit each of those categories.”
Six Spartans say farewell
Hard work is the cornerstone of the Spartan boys basketball team’s recent success, and few players understand that better than the six seniors graduating this year.
“Our exciting, fast-paced, aggressive style of basketball does not come easily,” Kontny said. “It is something instilled in them every day from the time they enter the program until the time they leave. This is all they know, this is how they love to play and they do it for not only themselves and their teammates, but for their fans, their school and their community. Anyone who saw them play this season understands how hard they have worked every day in practice.”
Dustin Ritchie, the Spartans’ shooting guard, was a captain on this year’s team. When it came to working hard, he led by example.
“Ritchie was a exceptionally hard worker,” Kontny said. “He spent many hours in the gym in the offseason.”
Ritchie led Superior in scoring for the second straight year and was key to the team’s success, but he had a lot of help on the floor from his five fellow seniors.
Jesse Covill contributed solid numbers to the Spartans in his senior year while electrifying the crowd at the same time.
“How many blocks did he send into the bleachers? How many times did we see him fly through the air and grab rebounds like NBA players do?” Kontny said. “What a highlight film type of player.”
Keegan O’Neill led the team in assists and steals this season.
“What a great player, so versatile,” Kontny said. “He could play the point, play the 2 spot or 3 spot, post you up, defend anyone and rebound with anyone.”
Matt Peterson gave the Spartans valuable minutes in the post and came up with a number of pivotal rebounds throughout the season.
“Matt came off the bench for us all season and did a great job filling his role,” Kontny said. “He was a very solid rebounder and led us in rebounding different games throughout the course of the season.”
Kontny said Peterson’s work ethic was “second to none,” and that Peterson never questioned his playing time or role. In addition, Peterson held his own in the post, no matter who he went up against.
“He was a leader and a true team player. He always played with heart and passion,” Kontny said. “I watched him work so hard the last three seasons and knew he would help us in the post this season. He was great to have around and always gave us 100 percent.”
Two other Spartan seniors were also important members of the team, though not as much as they would have liked.
Ryan Radzak was another senior who exemplified the Spartan work ethic. According to Kontny, he worked hard over the summer to improve and never missed an open gym. When he was on the floor he was always hustling, which led to him breaking a bone in his hand early in the season when he dove for a loose ball.
“It was truly unfortunate for him and our entire team to have him get hurt in the Menomonie game and miss most of the season,” Kontny said. “We were however fortunate to get him back down the stretch and help make us deeper.”
Kontny said Radzak was a pure shooter and a great defender, as well as a strong rebounder. When he was able to return to the floor, Radzak provided an additional scoring threat beyond the arc.
“I was so proud of him when he got hurt, he never hung his head, he came to every practice,” Kontny said. “He was a true leader for us both on the court and off.
“He had two great varsity seasons here,” “I will miss our daily conversations as well as watching all these seniors work as hard as they did.”
Andy Radzak is another hard-working senior Kontny is sad to see go. Like his cousin, Ryan, Andy Radzak was hampered by injury in his senior season.
“Coming into the season he was by far our most solid defender,” Kontny said. “He never made mistakes on the floor. As a junior he helped lead us to the sectional finals and he put in a lot of time in the offseason preparing for this year.”
But Radzak was not able to do as much for his team as he would have like this year. In the very first game of the season, he suffered a herniated disc while taking a charge from an Eau Claire North player on Dec. 7.
“Andy was the quiet, hard-working, ask-no-questions type of player who would run through a brick wall if you asked him to,” Kontny said. “His teammates respected him, looked up to him and all wished he could have been part of our entire season.”
He was not able to return and play for the Spartans, but that didn’t keep Radzak away from the gym.
“Fortunately he is doing much better and realizes that there is more to life than basketball,” Kontny said. “He is a great student who no doubt will be successful in whatever he chooses. I am proud of him. He came to practice daily, cheered on his teammates and kept his head high when I knew he was down.”
More than half the team
Of the 12 players on the varsity roster for the Solon Springs High School boys basketball team, seven will not be returning next season.
Replacing the seven seniors will be an immense task for the Eagles. Each players brought leadership and a strong work ethic to the game, no matter his role on the team.
Jake Coughlin was an explosive leader for Solon Springs this season. As the Eagles’ starting guard he averaged 15.2 points per game with a 50 percent field goal percentage. He also contributed five rebounds per game, three steals and three assists.
Solon Springs head coach Matt Berger said Coughlin was an intense competitor who helped his team on both ends of the court.
Kyle Polzin was also valuable to the Eagles in more ways than one. As a junior, Berger said Polzin was such a versatile player who could fit into any scheme that in many game the team couldn’t afford to have him on the bench for even a few seconds.
This season, Polzin filled much the same role, doing a little bit of everything for the Eagles. He averaged nine points per game as well as six rebounds and two blocks. Yet his enthusiasm and calming demeanor will be missed the most, according to Berger.
Billy Hynes suffered a serious knee injury in his sophomore year, but he came back with determination and has been a two-year starter for the Eagles.
“Billy played the game the only way he knows how — full speed, full of confidence and all-out,” Berger said. “He led our team in rebounding in several games just because of his ability to beat everyone else to offensive rebounds.”
Hynes averaged five points, four rebounds and two assists this season, and Berger said his hustle on defense cannot be replaced.
In addition to the starters, the Eagles had a strong group of seniors filling other roles.
Billy Albano a 5-foot-11 forward started two games for Solon Springs this season and was a key member of the Eagles’ bench.
“A strong rebounder and good shooter, Billy was also an excellent practice player bringing brawn and intensity every day,” Berger said.
Mark Lundgren, a 5-foot-11 guard, also came off the bench for the Eagles this year. Berger said the senior’s energy and ability to more the ball made him valuable to the team.
“Without question, Mark is the most improved four-year player on the roster,” Berger said. “Playing very little youth basketball, Mark decided to give it a try his freshman year. By his senior year, he could play point guard and guard the other team’s best offensive player, big or small.”
At 6-foot-4, Cody Deming demanded the notice of opposing defenders inside. Yet Deming’s contributions were not limited to the post.
“Cody played well off the bench and was a contributing factor in several games,” Berger said. “Besides playing inside, he was able to step outside beyond the arc to hit 3-pointers.”
Jonny Elmore was another forward who could score from more than one position on the floor.
“Jonny was a versatile player who could play inside and outside,” Berger said. “Without a doubt, his highlight came in the playoffs when the Eagles needed someone to play inside due to illness and fouls to other players. He responded by scoring eight points and snaring three rebounds.”
Leaders on a young team
The Northwestern High School boys basketball team had many young players on its roster this season, but two seniors quietly helped lead the Tigers in practice and in games. Both seniors accepted their roles and put the team before themselves.
P.J. Freeman was a senior captain and starting guard for NHS. Dan Cowley, head coach of the Tigers, said Freeman provided great leadership for the young team both on and off the floor.
“He is a hard-nosed defender and a fierce competitor,” Cowley said. “He didn’t put up big numbers for the season, but that wasn’t his role. His (role) was to provide stability and leadership, and he did a great job in those areas.”
Freeman averaged six points per game, 2.2 assists and two rebounds in his final season as a Tiger.
The other senior on the Tigers team this year was Tony Brannan. He played a supporting role for NHS and worked every day to inspire his teammates.
“Tony didn’t get a lot of playing time but he was still a big part of our team,” Cowley said. “Tony was a hard worker in practice and he did a great job of making practices as competitive and intense as he could.
“Not everyone contributes to the team with minutes on the floor, and Tony understood that his role was to practice as hard as he could and be a great teammate.”
Evergreens will be missed
Only two seniors will be graduating from the Northwood High School boys basketball team this season, but filling their places will be a difficult chore for the Evergreens.
Kevin Pagorek returned as the starting center for Northwood this season.
“Kevin was leading the conference in rebounding before he suffered a series of ankle injuries that kept him out of seven games late in the season,” said Paul Vaara, Evergreens head coach. “He has been a big part of this program and will be missed.”
Zach Haynes will also leave a hole in the Evergreens’ roster.
“Zach was a 3-year starter for us,” Vaara said. “His ability to do just about anything on the floor will be missed. Zach is a multidimensional player. He can play the post and also spot up and shoot the three.”
Haynes was named to the Central Lakeland All-Conference team this season and averaged 11 points per game and eight rebounds for the Evergreens. More than that, though, both Haynes and Pagorek will be missed for their leadership.
At the start of the season, the seniors said they wanted to see Northwood improve upon its overall record of the previous season. The Evergreens more than doubled their total wins this season, and the Northwood seniors can walk away knowing they helped lay the foundation.