State notebook: Thanks for the memories

by Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor

Sheboygan Lutheran coach Nick Verhagen lifts the Division 5 state championship trophy Saturday. – Photo by Erika Reimer

MADISON – It’s been an unforgettable three days for the state-winning Sheboygan Lutheran boys basketball team.

Here’s a look at the Crusaders’ time in and around the Kohl Center, which culminated with a victory over Marshfield Columbus Catholic in the Division 5 title game this afternoon.

TIC-TAC-TOE DOMINATION: On Thursday, freshman Robby Michael challenged sophomore Matthew Witte to a game of tic-tac-toe as the team waited for its food at Sugar River Pizza in Verona.

That was one of the few mistakes by a Crusader all weekend.

“He’s just really good,” Michael said.

The two played 44 games of tic-tac-toe on placemats and Michael did not win a single match. Witte won 11 times and the rest ended in ties.

“It was just a little bit of an embarrassment for him,” Witte joked. “I kept it pretty quiet.”

Naturally, Witte is able to gloat for at least the rest of the school year.

“Most likely, yeah,” he said. “Until I can’t remember anything, I will rub it in.”

The obvious question is how did Witte get so good?

“I just know a couple of patterns that have worked from being a little kid, because we always played in elementary school,” Witte said. “I just remembered some things that worked well. And it worked.”

Perhaps Michael can ask for a rematch next season if Lutheran returns to state.

“Maybe,” Michael said. “I’m going to start studying so I can beat Witte.”

A SHORT BUT SWEET MEMORY: On Friday, junior Max Leonhard was able to see game action on the Kohl Center floor in a semifinal win over McDonell Catholic.

Leonhard rarely gets to play – he had 12 points all season – but at least he got in for 1 minute before not playing Saturday.

Winning state is what was important to him.

“All of our work we put in as a team, we get a little recognition for that,” he said. “All the work we put in behind the scenes, now everyone can see the results.”

SATURDAY FULL OF FUN: The morning started with Lutheran coach Nick Verhagen getting the pulse of his team.

“I just saw them stoic,” Verhagen said. “I just felt like they were not overwhelmed by the situation. I felt that way with these guys all year.”

That was before the Crusaders arrived at the Kohl Center.

What they did not expect was the lights to dim before the game so highlights of each team’s semifinal game could be shown on the scoreboard before the starting lineups were introduced in the dark, just like the Badgers and in the NBA.

“It was pretty cool for all of us,” junior Jacob Ognacevic said. “We’ve never done anything like that.”

Sophomore Joseph-Thomas Schultz agreed.

“I got really excited,” he said. “Adrenaline started going and really happy emotions went through my body.”

Any goosebumps?

“No goosebumps,” Schultz said.

After winning state, freshman Nick Verhagen was asked to think back to 2012, when he was in the stands with his mother to watch his father on the sidelines as an assistant coach and then Sam Dekker’s last-second shot to win state.

Now it was his turn to hoist the title trophy.

“I can’t believe it, it’s awesome,” Verhagen said. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet, but it will.”

What about 50 years from now?

The elder Verhagen was asked what he will remember most about this weekend as time goes on.

“Picking up this gold ball (championship trophy) and watching the guys be behind all those pictures that were taken (during the award ceremony),” the coach said. “I said to some people that as a coach and a competitor, I’ve been here before. I’ve been here before as an assistant coach with a win and before as a head coach with a loss (2014).

“But my career would be incomplete without (the championship trophy). These guys allowed me to live my dream and get this victorious gold ball.”

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