The 2011-12 season was a long one for the Neillsville boys basketball program, and it wasn’t because it made a deep postseason run. The Warriors struggled all season and scratched out just three victories.
To make matters worse, the team watched the girls program dominate the opposition en route to an undefeated season and WIAA Division 4 state championship. The wrestling team also had a solid 2011-12 season and both teams are doing it again this year.
This time however, the boys basketball team has joined the party. Led by do-everything senior guard Matt Dux, the Warriors have burst out of the gate and raced to an 11-1 (9-1 Cloverbelt Conference East Division) start to the season after combining for just 13 wins the past two seasons.
“The senior leadership on this team has been excellent,” coach Nathan Ehlen said. “The guys played with the underclassmen in the summer, and that really helped our continuity on the court to start the year.
“We took our lumps last year, but I think that turned out to be a good thing. The guys don’t want that losing feeling anymore. Some kids jumped from C-team to varsity (last year), that is a big jump. But the one constant is Matt (Dux) and Nick (Thoma) and their leadership.”
The only loss Neillsville has suffered is a heartbreaking loss to undefeated and division-leading Augusta, 50-49. Augusta leads the Cloverbelt with a 10-0 conference record and Neillsville sits a game back at 9-1 and alone in second place.
Dux has been outstanding for the Warriors and helped put them in the position they are in. He leads the team in scoring (15 ppg), assists (4 per game) and even rebounds as a guard (8 per game), but leadership hasn’t come easy for him.
“Last year, I wasn’t the best leader to be honest,” Dux said. “It is hard sometimes to be the bad guy. But, I have tried my best to lead this year, keep everyone in line. Hopefully, we keep on winning.”
One way Dux has proven to be a leader is with his defense and battling for rebounds.
“Last year was hard, but coach Ehlen has done a great job,” Dux said. “We have stepped up and played defense much better this year. My rebounding is just part of that, trying to do what you can to get a win.”
Added Ehlen, “I am just amazed that he has been able to get numerous double-doubles this season with his rebounding ability.”
Dux is far from the only reason for the Warriors’ scintillating start. He doesn’t need to score 25 points for Neillsville to be successful, as the supporting cast has knocked down shots and contributed in various ways.
His brother, Michael, averages over 10 points, while Thoma (7.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Matt Grottke (5.5, 5.3) contribute to the very balanced team that can win with offense or defense.
One thing is certain, the hallways at Neillsville High School are certainly a good place to be, particularly for the participants in winter sports, as the boys and girls basketball teams and wrestling teams are all having strong seasons.
“It is a lot more fun to be a part of it,” Ehlen said. “To have all three teams playing so well and at the same time is great. Hopefully we keep it rolling.”
Added Dux, “It feels good. More people are paying attention and coming to our games.”