WIAA D2 Sectional Final: (1) Waunakee 57, (1) Westosha Central 39
Central’s best run in school history ends one game from state
By Jason Arndt
Ending a regional title drought, back-to-back outright Southern Lakes Conference championships, and its first WIAA Division 2 sectional championship appearance in school history.
Those were reasons for the Westosha Central High School boys basketball team to celebrate, according to coach James Hyllberg, whose team fell to 2016 state runner-up Waunakee on Saturday at Middleton High School.
Hyllberg, in his second season, reminded his Falcons’ squad of the list of accomplishments following the 57-39 loss, which snapped an 11-game winning streak.
“I told the guys that we got a lot to celebrate, we went further than any team in Central history, so we are going to celebrate this season,” he said. “We are going to look back on it and hopefully we’ll be back next season.”
The Falcons also drew praise from Warriors coach Dana Mackenzie, who noted Westosha Central’s defense posed a challenge and the Falcons were in the sectional title contest for a reason.
“When you get to this point of competition, all teams are here for a purpose,” Mackenzie said. “A lot of credit goes to them, they had a heck of a year, a solid team.”
Warriors make early adjustment
Mackenzie, noting the Falcons’ 1-3-1 defense, said his Warriors team entered the contest with confusion and discomfort but made a rapid adjustment.
“They made us really uncomfortable, it took us awhile for our guys to adjust,” he said. “We haven’t seen a 1-3-1 before and they do it really well.”
The Warriors’ state of discomfort, however, was short-lived, courtesy of a 14-1 run in the first seven minutes of the contest.
Of Waunakee’s 14 points, 6-foot-2 junior Mason Steffen knocked in 10 of his 16 points while 6-3 junior Mitch Listau added two of his game-high 22 points.
Westosha Central, held without a field goal the first seven minutes, received its first on a Tre Williams 3-pointer to pull the contest within 10 points at 14-4.
Williams, a 5-foot-11 senior, was held to two first half 3-pointers, but finished with a team-leading 15 points.
Following Williams’ shot from the arc, both teams traded field goals in the next four scores, which kept Waunakee ahead by 10 points at 16-6.
Then, the Warriors compiled a 5-0 stretch, including a 3-point play by Listau, to produce their second-largest lead at 26-9.
Hyllberg cited both the Warriors’ size and offensive rebounds as primary contributors to the early deficit.
“They are big, they got some size and they got some key rebounds and that is just part of their game,” Hyllberg said. “They are a good team, they have some good players and are a really well-coached team.”
Despite Waunakee’s full court press late in the first half, Westosha Central continued to push, closing out the half with an 8-0 run to enter halftime with a 26-17 deficit.
Following a Cooper Brinkman score, Williams and 6-0 sophomore Adam Simmons had a 3-pointer each.
Central makes charge
In the second half, Westosha Central pulled the contest within five at 36-31, courtesy of a 6-0 run, sparked by four Jaeden Zackery points and another two from Williams.
“I was proud of our guys, we came back in the second half, we came within five,” Hyllberg said. “We were right there and I think our guys gained some confidence against a potential state-winner.”
Zackery, who knocked in nine points, including six in the second half, credited the Warriors for pushing the Falcons to the brink on offense.
“They are a very good defensive team, they got a lot of talent, they should get pretty far (in state),” said Zackery.
Waunakee answered with a Steffen 3-pointer, putting the Warriors ahead 39-31, before it coaxed the Falcons into six personal fouls the rest of the contest, accounting for nine points.
Although the Falcons could not muster enough points against Waunakee, allowing less than 60 to last year’s state runner up is indicative of the Falcons’ defense, Hyllberg said.
“We held a team under 60 points and any time you hold a high school team under 60 points, you have a great chance to win,” he said.
As Westosha Central prepares for the offseason, Zackery credited the five seniors for instilling confidence in him as a sophomore.
“They taught me that it doesn’t matter what grade you are in, just come up and do your thing and keep your head up,” said Zackery, who finished second on the team with 9.5 points per game along with 2.4 assists per game, also second.
Along with the loss of Williams, the Falcons bid farewell to 6-5 Lucas Graveley, 6-2 Bailey Menarek, 6-0 Jack Schroeder and 6-0 Jake Werth.
Williams, who departs the Falcons with more than 1,000 points, compiled a team-leading 16.5 points per game in his senior season.
“It’s going to be extremely tough to (see him leave), I am proud of Tre, he is a great kid and has a great attitude, gave it his all,” Hyllberg said. “We are going to miss him.”
Meanwhile, Zackery credited Williams’ clutch shooting for keeping the Falcons in games this season.
“He brought a lot of talent, he is a great shooter, and every time we were down, he just brought us up and got us ready to go,” he said.
While the five seniors depart, the Falcons “some young guys step up this year,” said Hyllberg.
Along with Zackery, Brinkman finished third in scoring at 8.3 ppg and second to Graveley’s 4.5 rebounds per game at 3.5.
Additionally, junior Nic Frederick led the team with 3.3 assists per game.
Two other sophomores, Simmons and 6-3 Dylan Anderson also expect to return, in addition to 6-4 junior Joey Gilliland.
But, according to Zackery, the Falcons should come together rapidly next season, if this year was any indication.
“We just had to come together as a team and maintain a high intensity with all of our confidence,” he said. “We became a big family since the start of the year.”