MADISON – Xavier’s undefeated run to the WIAA Division 3 boys’ basketball championship was more than just a celebration for the 14 players and five coaches on the Hawks’ roster.
It was for the Xavier community as a whole, as well as the great players from years past who were never able to bring home WIAA gold. Elite players such as Sam Burkart, Zach Simons and Matt Ferris are just some of the more recent guys who come to mind when it comes to outstanding players who never got to drink from the championship glass.
Xavier whipped Prescott 73-47 in the D3 championship game Saturday at the Kohl Center. It was the Hawks’ third consecutive trip to the final, with losses to Brown Deer (2015) and Waupun (2016) the past two seasons.
“It’s a program win, there’s no question,” Xavier coach Matt Klarner said. “Whenever you do something like this, it puts you on the map across the state.”
Xavier finished 28-0 and was the No. 2 ranked team in the state behind Ripon in the Associated Press poll for most of the season.
As an AP voter, I was usually the lone voter to go with Xavier. It had less to do with homerism and more to do with knowing how driven the Hawks were to make sure their third time at the state tournament was going to be the charm.
What struck me this season was the focus on the faces of Plamann and fellow junior guard Sam Ferris. The Hawks have a terrific backcourt returning for next season, but those two really led the charge this season following Xavier’s tough last-second loss to Waupun in the 2016 final.
“(This year’s win) isn’t going to get back the heartache that we felt last year,” Klarner said. “Those guys were so heartbroken to be so close and the group two years ago, they laid out their heart for this program and got here.
“At the same time, I’m never going to apologize for a silver ball. They had great teams and great seasons and they put us on the Kohl Center floor with a chance to win. And if we won, we won. And if we lost, we lost. We can deal with it either way. It is a little sweeter and nicer to win that last one.”
Klarner should take a lot of the credit, too. He’s underrated when it comes to putting together game plans and has elevated an already good program to a championship level.
The Hawks play a high-octane, entertaining brand of basketball and both Ripon coach Dean Vander Plas and Prescott coach Nick Johnson pointed out how tough it was to game plan for the Hawks and their unique offensive system.
When pressed following the Hawks’ win over Prescott, Klarner deflected and pointed to his coaching staff and the Hawks community as being integral parts of the team’s success.
“It’s all about building,” he said. “You look at where we started six years ago to go from 14 wins to 16 wins to 18 wins to 24 wins and now this year, 28 wins. I can’t take all the credit. I work really hard and our coaching staff works really hard and we have great coaches at the youth levels who help these kids improve every single day.
“And above all, we have families that support us every day and do a lot of great things for us and amazing kids who will do anything to do have success and are willing to come in and listen and learn.”
Viotto resigns: Jim Viotto announced his resignation Monday as the Kaukauna girls’ basketball coach.
Viotto was 23-73 in his four seasons with the Ghosts. Kaukauna finished 3-21 this season and was 2-22 in the 2015-16 season.
“The District extends a sincere thank you to Coach Viotto for his four years of service to this team and to our student-athletes,” Kaukauna activities director Chris McDaniel said in a news release by the district. “We wish him success in the future.”
The position of Kaukauna girls’ basketball coach will be posted on the district’s website this week, according to the release.
Carl competes in Challenge: Kaukauna’s Eric Carl scored 12 points but did not advance past the first round at the WIAA Boys 3-Point Challenge on Saturday morning at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Austin Martin of Random Lake beat defending champion Keaton Stremick of Waukesha South 18-17 in the finals. Bryce Te Kulve of Luxemburg-Casco and Neal Cerveny of Gresham also made it to the semifinals.
The other contestants were Zach Borden of Kenosha Bradford, Caleb Gracyalny of Clinton, Colton Groholski of Amherst, Reid Larson of Fennimore and Nicholas Brozek of Fall River.
Predictions update: Here’s a recap on how I fared picking the boys’ state tournament last week. I finished 4-1, with my only mistake in Division 5.
Division 1: Predicted winner – Stevens Point. Winner – Stevens Point. Division 2: Predicted winner – La Crosse Central. Winner – La Crosse Central. Division 3: Predicted winner – Xavier. Winner – Xavier. Division 4: Predicted winner – Milwaukee Destiny. Winner – Milwaukee Destiny. Division 5: Predicted winner – McDonnel Central. Winner – Barneveld.
The week ahead
Varsity Roundtable, Wednesday, 7 p.m.: We’re off this week, but hope to return March 29 with a celebratory show featuring the WIAA Division 3 boys’ basketball champion Xavier Hawks.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo