It was a difficult year to be a young team in the North Shore Conference.
With veteran programs like Whitefish Bay, Germantown and Port Washington leading the way, experience won out in most cases.
So Knights coach Paul Hepp was not totally unhappy with the 9-13 record his youthful squad turned in.
"This was the best I've seen the North Shore Conference in 14 years," Hepp said. "Top to bottom it was just very competitive, and we just didn't have a lot of seniors to work with."
Nicolet's only seniors were Sam Goldberg and Jahred Washington, and the Knights often depended junior guards Myles Henry, Jarel James, Tre Kinlow, Clem Robinson and Jeff McClain.
Washington and sophomore Cinmeon Bowers gave Nicolet a post presence.
Another sophomore post, Christian Griggs-Williams, played well in the two tournament games.
"I thought the kids responded well even after tough losses or a stretch of losses," Hepp said. "They were able to put things behind them and by the end of the season I thought their work ethic was equal too or even better than it was at the start of practice."
With just a few breaks, a 6-15 season could have easily been a winning campaign for the Highlanders.
"We have a good argument for that," Homestead coach Ray Curry said, "especially given how many close games and missed opportunities that we had. We came in late again (because of the state football playoffs) and started slowly but after a few weeks we honestly looked better than we did when we had that situation last year."
Homestead became good at gaining leads but not holding them. In one case, they had co-City Conference champ Hamilton on the ropes in the final of the Chekouras Classic in December but could not hold on.
"Mistakes at bad moments would really hurt us," Curry said. "We had athletes and strength but what we needed were just a few basketball players."
Homestead junior post John Laihinen averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He and senior Shelby Harris formed a formidable post combination for the Highlanders who frequently struggled from the perimeter.
Other seniors included Casey Barnes, Tyler Rembert, Grayson Driscoll, Alex Bangert and Stephen Sullivan.
For the first time in years, the Highlanders will return their top scorers in Laihinen and guard Coy Smith.
- Steven L. Tietz,
The Falcons lost 97 percent of their scoring from their Woodland quad-champion and WIAA sectional finalist from a year ago and got their first new coaches in 25 years.
Despite that, the Falcons, who were not picked to win more than five games by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook, were competitive for much of the season and finished 10-12.
"We knew what we were getting into and it didn't matter," Falcons co-coach Andy Bauschelt said. "We're working to see the program flourish in the long run. We had a nice group of seniors who worked hard and now there's a nice group working its way through the middle school."
Bauschelt and co-coach James Flegel took over for longtime coach and athletic director Mike Novak. The players they did inherit were inexperienced; Novak's last group included 11 seniors.
The pair was happy for the leadership and hard play they got out of seniors like Christopher Morgan, Steve Zielinski, James Hicks, Quantavious Tucker, Justin Gordon, Deiryon Nicholson and Nate Seefeldt. A late-season leg injury to Zielinski limited the only legitimate size the Falcons had this winter.
The team's future will be led by sophomore second-team All-Woodland North selection Jaleel Queary and sophomore honorable mention Joziah Mallett. Fellow sophomores Keone Moore and Kierre Ogbanna also got earned experience this season.
Highlights included wins over Wauwatosa West and WIAA regional champion Whitnall as well as a stretch midseason during which the team won six of seven.
We really saw a lot of improvement and James and I learned a lot," Bauschelt said. "Now it's up to the sophomores. They know what they have to do to improve for next season. And it'll be a different situation next year. Not many people believed in us this year. Next year, expectations will be much higher."
Shorewood finished a rough season well.
The Greyhounds, who were 6-16 overall (5-11 conference), won half of their final six games of the season during a stretch that included games with tough opponents like Wauwatosa West, New Berlin Eisenhower (twice), Pewaukee and Whitefish Bay.
"I think that 95 percent of the coaches would be happy going 3-3 against that group," Shorewood coach John Hoke said. "I was happy we finished as strong as we did. We played 11 games against teams who reached the regional finals and five or six with teams who made it into the sectionals. It was a demanding schedule."
Shorewood's seniors were Antwain Barfield, Robert Duffy, Tony Hackett, Malachi Krishok, Charles Miller, Anthony Oliphant, Josh Rathkamp and Marc Mitchell. Barfield was a second-team all-conference choice.
"As a group these seniors were very selfless guys," Hoch said. "I'm proud of all these guys.
"Anthony did a 180 this year. He always gave effort, but the results were unbelievable in the last month. I am so proud of how far he's come as a player. It would have been easy for him to give up, but he never gave up."
The Greyhounds lost six games by nine combined points.
"One of the main goals we met were we were competitive this year," Hoch said. "I wish at the beginning of the season, we learned to control things at the end of the game like we did at the end of the season. We learned from that. You have to look at the big picture and I think we've come a long way. The main thing is we're competitive now."
- Steven L. Tietz
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