Winneconne’s unprecedented run to a WIAA state football championship was something that won’t soon be forgotten by the players, the school and the community.
But now it’s time for basketball.
And as great as that postseason run was, it has had an effect on the Wolves basketball team.
While other squads were in the gym getting in their early-season condition, the bulk of Winneconne’s varsity roster was getting ready to play Somerset and Platteville.
While other squads were letting their players heal their bumps and bruises from football season, the Wolves players were out getting more.
And while the original 2013-14 schedule for the Wolves had them playing at Clintonville last Thursday, Winneconne was out hoisting the state championship trophy.
“We’re getting off to a slow start, but I think the slow start won’t be a big deal,” said Winneconne coach Nate Ryf, also a member of the football team’s coaching staff. “At the start of the season, it’s just kind of going to be getting our legs under us. We’re in football shape. We’re not really in basketball shape right now.”
Ryf said he isn’t going to rush the players into the basketball season and Winneconne already had its first two games of the season postponed.
Instead it’s something the team is going to have to work through, the switch from the gridiron to the basketball court.
“We’ll be able to transition and we’ll just see how it works day by day,” Ryf said. “I know it’s hard for them to transition right away into it, but we have to work hard, we know that. It’s going to be a process and it’s going to be on me to get the kids up to speed as fast possible.
Plus, as the team gets further and further into the basketball season, the success from football is something that can definitely carry over from one sport to the next.
“I think it’s going to be a positive experience that will help us,” Ryf said. “The way they came together and saw how working together helped them so much through the playoffs and how believing in each other worked, they kind of learned how to win. I think that’s going to be a positive.
“The football players had a great run and we enjoyed it and now let’s take it over to basketball season and we can do it here as well.”
Two key members of the Wolves’ roster have been taking to the courts since practice officially opened and that will definitely be a benefit when the team finally tips off the 2013-14 campaign.
Seniors Zach Horn and Matt Vanden Boogart will be two of the players the Wolves will be counting on this season and they are definitely ready to get the season going.
“They’ve been in the gym the last two weeks. They understand why we held off, but they are chomping at the bit and ready to go,” Ryf said. “We’re going to have to lean on the guys who have been in the gym for a long time.”
Horn is the top returning scorer from last year after averaging 13.2 points per game as a junior. He returns to run the point and Ryf is confident he can handle whatever opposing defenses throw at him.
“We know where Zach’s at and we know what we have there,” Ryf said. “I don’t think we have to worry about him, like who’s going to bring the ball up if we get pressed. He knows what to do and he’s a great shooter as well.”
Vanden Boogart averaged 6.7 points per game — third highest average on the team last year — but really came on in the second half of the season. He had a stretch of 10 games, starting at the holiday break where he reached double figures seven times, including a season0gh 17 points against Clintonville in January.
“Matt is one of our better athletes with the basketball. He has that ability that you can’t teach,” Ryf said. “He’s more confident now and I think he’s a little bit stronger and he’s just grown into that senior that you need. He’s taken some steps to be more of a leader.”
The rest of the Wolves roster will be made up of members of the football team.
One of the top guys in that group will be senior Riley Kallas, who averaged 6.6 points per game a year ago and is one of the top one-on-one defenders for the Wolves.
“Riley is just a true competitor. He gets it. He understands what’s it like to play a role on a team,” Ryf said. “We’re going to have him defend some of the better guys we see and I think having him guard our guys in practice is going to help because I think our offensive scorers are going to be right up there with some of the best in the league this year. “
Seniors Mitchel Fenrich, Brett Kramer, Cooper Goss and Chris Boehnlein all saw limited varsity minutes last season but will be counted on to fill roles when the season starts. Winneconne could also get a boost from junior Ben Davis when he returns from an injury sufferance late in the football season, while fellow junior Andrew Zolp will also add to the Winneconne roster.
“We’re going to have that senior leadership,” Ryf said “That group all gels for the most part and we’re going to have great competitive practices. Anytime you can have competitive practices and that kind of atmosphere, you can breed that competitiveness.”
There is no doubt that Winneconne has some size and strength on its roster, however, Ryf is concerned on how that size will translate into being a good rebounding team.
“One of our weaknesses is that we’re going to have to have guys step up and rebound,” Ryf said. “We’ve got some taller kids but getting all them to buy in on their role, will be key.”
Rebounding is going to be an important facet of the game for the Wolves as they look to improve on their 53.5 defensive average from last season.
Ryf knows his team will be able to score but it’s going to be stopping the other team and then finishing off the possession with a rebound that will be more important.
“I think we have to come together as a team and we have to play great defense this year,” Ryf said “We’ve played some zone and played some man-to-man but it really hasn’t been up to where it needs to be.”
Thirteen of the 16 all-conference honorees last year in the Eastern Valley Conference graduated, which include the entire first and second teams. That should open the race up in the EVC and give plenty of teams a shot at the title.
Ryf lists Xavier as his early favorite, bit believes that when all is said and done for the 2013-14 season, the Wolves will be right in the thick of a race.
The conference is going to be tough. You have great coaches in the EVC, there’s no just show up and beat anyone,” Ryf said. “I definitely wouldn’t say we’re a favorite, but our kids are going to be scrappy and I definitely see us competing.”