By Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
Can the Sheboygan Lutheran boys basketball team repeat as state champion, or is it too hard to do because it hasn’t happened in Division 5 since it was added to the tournament in 2011?
“Yes to both,” Crusaders’ coach Nick Verhagen said. “Yes we can and yes it’s very difficult to do.”
Practice started Monday for boys basketball teams around the state, and Verhagen has been waiting for it.
“I’m super excited about things,” he said.
For good reason.
Lutheran returns two all-state players, including senior Jacob Ognacevic, who averaged 30 points and 16 rebounds per game last year and has committed to play at Valparaiso University.
The other all-stater is sophomore Casey Verhagen, who added 10 points per game as a freshman.
“Having the best player in Division 5 helps us a lot,” Verhagen said. “And Casey’s right there. Jacob is the best player in Division 5, but there’s a couple articles out, Casey’s right there. He’s a top-three, top-five player in the entire division.
“So for us to have two players that are top-five players in the division certainly helps us a lot.”
The Crusaders will also get some help from their junior varsity team that lost just one time last year, and that was on a last-second shot in the last game of the season.
“There’s a culture of a lot of things in our program, and winning is one of them,” Verhagen said.
But winning will not be easy, since the coach says his team is young and it has to replace Delvin Barnstable and Graden Grabowski, two players who made all-Big East Conference last season.
“We need to replace 30 points and some good senior leadership,” Verhagen said.
Whoever fills out the roster and ends up on the court, it will be the first time each player will be defending a state title.
But Verhagen, who saw first-hand what it is like since he was an assistant coach for the 2012 state-winning team, says the Crusaders got a feel for it in the second half of last season as opponents targeted them.
“We responded really well to those expectations last year by never letting our foot off the gas,” Verhagen said. “Every game we play it’s the opposing team’s Super Bowl. They come in with nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it’s the opposite for us. So we have to be well prepared, which I believe we are.”
Sophomore Michael Modahl is back after averaging a team-high 12 points per game last year.
He will be one of several sophomores playing, considering there are only three seniors and coach Brett Flipse calls his squad extremely young.
“Hopefully we grow throughout the season and become very competitive by game time,” he said. “We’ll be young with a lot of growing pains, but there’s a lot of young, talented players that are eager.”
Ten seniors helped the Golden Raiders take second place in the Fox River Classic Conference, and half of them were the top-five scorers on the team.
Coach Eric Worth, however, says he is really excited to get to work.
“We have a great group of kids that are willing to put the work in,” he said. “It’s going to be a ton of fun watching these guys grow and see who steps in to fill some big shoes from the seniors we graduated. I love our guys and can’t wait to get started.”
The Redwings have just two seniors, but at least one of them is Josh Govek.
Last year, he averaged 24 points per game and broke the school’s career scoring record that had stood since 1977.
Top rebounder Marcell Drone, a junior, also returns.
“We hope to take the next step in Year 2 of my program,” South coach Jesse Shaw said. “Continuous growth and learning life lessons will always be the two goals.”