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Gengenbach was a leader for the Eagles on and off the court

When the 2013-14 boys basketball season began, Solon Springs head coach Dale Rajala didn’t know what to expect.

The Eagles had lost their leading scorer and a pair of multi-year starters to graduation. Only two starters returned, and sophomores and freshmen made up half of the team.

Solon Springs needed a leader, and senior Daniel Gengenbach fit the bill.

“Daniel not only led our team statistically but his leadership on and off the floor was exceptional,” Rajala said. “He did a great job working with the younger players and had a very positive impact on the way they played this year.”

Gengenbach, in his third year on the varsity team, said he took his cue from the players who inspired him as an underclassman.

“Guys like Phil Larson and Jake Dahlberg have been the best mentors you could possibly have — always positive influences,” Gengenbach said. “I just hope I carried on in their footsteps this season for the younger guys as they did for me.”

Gengenbach, the 2014 Superior Telegram Boys Basketball Player of the Year, led the Eagles in every major offensive catetory this season. He averaged 19 points per game, shot 55 percent from the field and pulled down 8.1 rebounds per game. Gengenbach also led Solon Springs in free throw attempts with 127.

“Daniel was unstoppable for us this year,” Rajala said. “At 5-foot-11 Daniel was our big man inside battling players much taller than him. He made up for it with his strength and a great ability to attack the basket, using leverage and getting defenders out of position under the basket.”

Gengenbach was named to the Indianhead All-Conference first team and excelled in the paint this year, but he didn’t begin the season playing in the post.

It wasn’t until the Eagles’ third game of the season, a 58-55 loss to Drummond in double overtime, that Coach Rajala realized Gengenbach belonged in the middle. The senior finished that game with 30 points and 16 rebounds for Solon Springs, which including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the game into the second overtime period.

“After that Rajala just kept me as the main post player,” Gengenbach said. “I’ve always played guard or forward but never posted up until this year.”

Learning to play as the team’s big man was a challenge, Gengenbach said. Until this season, he’d played guard or small forward every year since playing in the Rookie Basketball Association as a third-grader.

“It’s funny because Daniel was more of ‘tweener’ over the last couple of years,” Rajala said. “He really wasn’t a paint player but also wasn’t a true wing either. But he worked very hard in the offseason to be our big man.

“He is truly one of the best post players I have ever coached.”

Gengenbach said his offseason work in the weight room gave him an edge under the basket this year. Most of his opponents were taller, but he knew they wouldn’t be able to outwork him.

He also relied on his speed to get by defenders in the paint. “I have to have a quick first step because I’m not as tall as a lot of guys,” Gengenbach said.

The Eagles finished the season with a 13-10 record after falling to Luck in the regional semifinals, but overall Gengenbach is proud of what the young team accomplished this season.

“People didn’t expect us to do what we did,” he said.

Looking ahead to next season, Gengenbach thinks Solon Springs can be a contender in the Indianhead Conference.

The talent is certainly there, he said.

“They just need to play together,” Gengenbach said. “We played together well this year, so I think they can do it.”

Superior Telegram

All-Area Basketball Players of the Year

2014 — Daniel Gengenbach, Solon Springs

2013 — Erick Tunell, Sr., Superior

2012 — Phil Larson, Sr., Solon Springs

2011 — Joel Lindberg, Sr., Superior

2010 — Joel Lindberg, Jr., Superior

2009 — Steve Tecker, Jr., Northwestern

2008 — Dustin Ritchie, Sr., Superior

2007 — Bart Bailey, Sr., Superior

2006 — Eric Thompson, Sr., Superior

2005 — Jimmy Glaeser, Sr., Northwestern

2004 — Jesse Taylor, Sr., Maranatha

2003 — Keith Ritsche, Sr., Superior

2002 — Alex Maas, Sr., Northwood