The ending to a marvelous season came on the floor of the Kohl Center on Friday, on the biggest stage the state has to offer in high school basketball.
But the finality of it all seemed to happen too quickly, didn’t it? The proverbial quick blink of the eye and the memorable season of the greatest team that the Little Chute community has seen was over: La Crosse Aquinas 61, Little Chute 51, in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal.
It didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem fair. But that’s the life lessons that these players will take away, Mustangs’ senior Turner Botz said.
“It really stinks when you put in so much work and you can’t get the reward that you want,” Botz said. “But (that’s) life situations and you have to learn how to deal with it now.
“It will hurt for awhile, but we have to move on. We have bigger things in life now that we’re going to have to deal with.”
The Mustangs (25-2) were the best boys’ basketball team in the Post-Crescent area, but the goals of these players went beyond that. They had tasted it before, coming tantalizingly close two seasons ago in a semifinal loss to Racine St. Catherine’s, with many of these same players on that team.
The state championship was all these players wanted. Not just for themselves, but for the players that came close before as well as the Mustangs faithful that crowded their section of the Kohl Center in powder blue.
But the reality of coming up short was a humbling one. The Mustangs fell to a superb Aquinas team that featured Bronson Koenig, a Wisconsin recruit and one of the very best players this reporter has seen at the high school level.
Koenigs scored 14 points and had four rebounds and four assists, but his incredible court awareness and sublime ability to impact each one of this team’s possessions was simply too much for the Mustangs to contain.
He also guarded Botz for most of the game and while Botz finished with 19 points, he earned every single one of them.
Still, the loss will have Botz thinking about what might have been.
“Well, that’s what I constantly do,” Botz said. “I always look at myself as a perfectionist that’s never perfect. I want to do everything I can to make myself and my teammates the best that we can be.”
Little Chute coach Mickey Martin has been in coaching for 33 years, including nine years as the Mustangs head coach and said that his players’ work ethic was a driving force to their success.
“Some people are fortunate enough to have great teams and be able to coach those great teams, well, I guess I’ve been in the business long enough to have more chances,” Martin said. “I had the chance to coach great players this year and the last couple of years and I feel I was in the right place at the right time with a great group of kids. And we were able to make it work.
“My guys have made my life easier because they’re good kids and they work so hard. They really did a good job with everything that goes with that as well. So I think that they were able to do that and keep it together and wear our school colors with pride and do the right thing.”
It was a fantastic three-year run for the nine seniors on the team but also a final farewell and sobering realization that this group of Botz, Schuyler Johnson, Jed Albers, Ben Luitjens, Sam Pynenberg, Chase Hawley, Tyler Job and Kenneth Lowe, will never play together again as Mustangs.
“You hear that at the beginning of the season. That (your senior year) will go by quick,” Ciske said. “And it definitely did. Not that it’s over, it’s kind of crazy.
“But I’m glad I got to end my career at the Kohl Center.”