PARDEEVILLE – The recent success of the Pardeeville boys basketball team can be traced back to eight years ago, when the current crop of seniors started playing together in the fourth grade.
Fast forward to the present day, and most of those kids now make up Pardeeville’s roster, as 10 of the 11 players the Bulldogs will suit up in tonight’s Division 4 sectional semifinal matchup with New Glarus at Oconomowoc High School are seniors.
Together, the group has had quite a run with the Bulldogs, having won conference and regional championships each of the last two seasons. It’s a run that they hope won’t end tonight, as they try to knock off the undefeated Glarner Knights, who are the No. 1 ranked team in Division 4 in both the Wissports.net coaches poll and the Associated Press poll.
One of those seniors, 6-foot-5 forward Jonathan Kamrath, who is averaging 9.2 points per game, said having the same teammates for so long is one of the reasons Pardeeville has been so successful.
“We’re so familiar with each other that we know where we’re going to be, what we’re going to do,” Kamrath said. “I think it helps us run smoother on offense and defense.”
Pardeeville coach Chris Lindert said there is more to it than just having a group play together for so long. Each player has accepted his role, whether it be as a scorer, a defensive stopper or coming off the bench.
“It’s unique that the kids would stay out from fourth grade on. To have 10 seniors, that’s pretty good,” Lindert said. “They’ve all developed into certain roles, and they’ve really adapted to those roles and have accepted those roles.”
The role of leading scorer and point guard has been filled by senior Nicholas Henke, who averaged 15.3 points per game this year and was just recently named the player of the year in the Trailways West Conference, the second year in a row he’s received that honor.
Tonight will be the third time Henke has played in a sectional semifinal. As a freshman, Henke was a key member of a team that made a surprise run to a regional title, and he and the Bulldogs returned to the sectional semifinals again last year. Each of Henke’s previous two sectional semifinal appearances ended in disappointment, including last year’s 64-58 loss to Cochrane-Fountain City.
In last year’s season-ending loss, Pardeeville led the Pirates 32-26 at halftime before faltering down the stretch. Henke thinks this year’s team will be more prepared to play in a sectional game.
“A lot of the noise last year was a big thing. There was a lot of people there,” Henke said. “It was full last year. It’s supposed to be a bigger crowd this year, but I think having three or four seniors come back, really playing a lot, it will help a lot.”
Senior Logan Zuhlke, who scored a career-high 29 points in the 68-56 victory over Markesan in the regional final on Saturday night, also thinks the Bulldogs are ready to handle the large crowd.
“We should be used to the crowd and everything,” Zuhlke said. “I feel like last year, the crowd was what got us with our nerves and everything. This year we should be pretty good.”
Pardeeville’s already formidable senior class grew by one over the summer, when former Rio standout Duncan Fleiner moved the Pardeeville. The 6-foot-6 center has been a perfect fit for his new team, giving the Bulldogs the big man they desperately needed.
Fleiner, who averaged 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season, recorded his fourth double-double of the season when he scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds in a 61-47 victory over Westfield in the regional semifinals Friday.
Some of Pardeeville’s players had experience playing with Fleiner during the summer A.A.U. season, which helped the transition, but it still took some time for him to get up to speed with Pardeeville’s offensive system.
“It was a little different because we never really had a big guy like Duncan,” Kamrath said. “You obviously have to get the ball to Duncan down low, because he’s just a beast down there. So it took a little bit, but he’s such a good player that it wasn’t that hard.”
The Bulldogs will need Fleiner tonight. New Glarus comes in averaging 84 points a game, and has scored less than 70 points only once all season. The Bulldogs know they can’t expect to win a shootout with the Knights.
“We’re not going to outscore them in the 90s, that’s not what we do,” Lindert said. “We’re going to have to be better on the defensive end. And then make sure our offensive possessions are good.”
New Glarus features many offensive weapons, but none bigger than Jaden Kreklow. The 5-foot-10 junior guard is scoring a team-high 20.6 points per game and was recently named player of the year in the Capitol South Conference.
Kreklow was one of three New Glarus players to make it on the five-player All-Capitol South Conference squad. Teammates joining him were 6-foot junior Zach Feller and 6-foot-5 senior Cullen Brooks. Feller comes in averaging 19.4 points per game while Brooks is averaging 15.2 points per contest.
“It’s not just one or two, they have a lot of kids that can score,” Lindert said. “They can shoot. They can take the ball to the basket. They’re very good. They’re very well coached. It should be a fun game.”