Last season, Mauston’s senior-laden squad found itself on the cusp of the program’s first trip to the state tournament since 1974. Now, the Golden Eagles must get ready to move on from one of the most prolific senior classes in recent program history.
The class of 2017 was part of an impressive stretch for Mauston basketball. The Golden Eagles won captured back-to-back conference titles in 2015 and 2016, and entered the 2017-18 season in search of a three-peat.
Mauston ended up falling to third in the conference standings, but made up for it in postseason play. The Golden Eagles went on a run all the way to the sectional finals, with only a loss to the Prescott Cardinals denying them a spot in the state tournament.
“I think it was just a great community achievement,” said Mauston head coach Gil Saylor. “When high school teams do really well, it’s the kids doing it, but it’s also something bigger. It’s all of the parents that made those opportunities available. It’s schools opening the doors to lets kids practice. So it was a great thing for the program, but an even better thing for the community to experience that and get behind kids, because there’s something special when you get behind a group of young men and women who are just out there working and trying to do their best.”
Saylor particularly was impressed by his team’s refusal to pack it in after coming up short of its goal to win a conference title last year.
“They could have been down and disappointed that they didn’t reach a goal, but they really just kept on going,” he said. “That’s the part about that whole success story that I love, that they never really quit playing even though the first goal got taken away from them.”
A total of nine seniors were part of the roster last season, including seven of the top eight players in Saylor’s rotation.
The most notable returning player for this year is junior point guard Joe Bauer, a second-team all-conference selection. He averaged 10.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season.
Beyond Bauer, the Golden Eagles will be breaking in a lot of new faces into the varsity rotation from a roster consisting of four seniors, four juniors and three sophomores. This includes seniors Dakota Barnier and Daniel Raabe, junior Kyran Fitzgerald and sophomore Cade Hall.
However, Saylor is confident the players who spent most of last year practicing with the regulars in the rotation will be well equipped to succeed at the varsity level. To him, it will come down to how well and how quickly they are able to build team chemistry together.
“One of the things that we kind of talk about is it’s not that we don’t have basketball experience — we have a lot basketball experience — we just don’t have varsity game experience,” Saylor said. “So we’re going to have to learn how to play together, and it’s games that build a lot of trust and relationships with kids. Some of that stuff has to be built more (this year) than most times, and that’s kind of what we’re looking forward to when the season starts.”
There will likely be growing pains along the way, but Mauston doesn’t plan on letting its inexperience define its season.
“We’re not using our inexperience as an excuse, we’re just trying to be aware of it,” Saylor said. “We have expectations. This group wants to win games and they feel like they’re capable. They understand that they lack some other parts of games, but we also believe that — we may lack experience, we may lack an understanding of how to play specific situations. But we also know that we can shoot it pretty well. We’re pretty athletic and this group plays really hard.”
“Their expectations for themselves are very high. They don’t look at it as a rebuilding year. They just look at it as their chance right now to do something special as well.”