WIAA boys basketball: Journey concludes for Roncalli's seniors

WIAA boys basketball: Journey concludes for Roncalli's seniors

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WIAA boys basketball: Journey concludes for Roncalli's seniors

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MADISON

For the five starting seniors on the Roncalli basketball team, the journey that just ended started a decade ago.

The dream was to get to Madison and the state tournament. And that mission was accomplished after winning 22 straight games, including four postseason blowouts. It ended, however, one game short of the ultimate goal – a chance to play for a state title – when they lost 48-45 to Brown Deer in a WIAA Division 3 state semifinal Friday morning at the Kohl Center.

“We’ve been together for a long time and playing since we were young kids,” said Josh Erickson, the Jets’ scoring, rebounding and emotional leader. “And we got up on the varsity as sophomores, three of us. So, I mean it’s been a good ride with them. I’ve got a really good bond with them over the years.”

That bond was evident during a gritty performance against a taller and faster Brown Deer team. The Jets played tough help defense to limit the damage of Brown Deer’s 6-foot-9 Devante Jackson and 6-6 Jerry Luckett.

When Erickson went to the bench after picking up his second foul with 6 minutes, 29 seconds left in the first half, he became the team’s biggest cheerleader. And his teammates responded: when he exited, the Jets trailed 17-14; when he returned with 45 seconds left in the half, they led 31-30.

Most of that work was done by fellow senior Shane Johnson, who scored nine points in that stretch on three 3-pointers.

“He’s a really good corner 3-point shooter,” Roncalli coach Joe Rux said, “and against the zone we kind of figured that he would be able to get some wide-open shots from there. And early on, the skips were there and he was able to knock down the shot, I guess, that all year he’s made.”

All year, the Jets made shots. Especially the seniors. This Fab Five started all 27 games and was responsible for 70 percent of their team’s points.

* Erickson led the team with a 17.2 scoring average on 50-percent shooting from the field, including 41 percent on 3-pointers.

* Johnson was a 40-percent 3-point shooter.

* Nick Stelzer averaged 13 points per game, launching 211 3-pointers and connecting on a third of them.

The other two starters made contributions through other methods: Jared Patek was second in rebounds and steals, and Tyler Heyduk was a stingy ballhandler and a tenacious defender.

“It’s been a great journey,” Stelzer said. “A lot of us have been playing since second or third grade.”

Erickson, Heyduk and Stelzer were three-year varsity players for Rux, in his 14th season at Roncalli.

“First of all, obviously having that experience helps a lot,” Rux said, “especially this year early when, through losing some players right away, having to adjust very quickly the way that we had played really up to that point. And that meant moving pieces around. I mean Josh moved out to the wing, we had other players obviously had to switch positions and early on that really took some time to kind of find ourselves a little bit.

“And I’m not sure we ever really necessarily peaked because of that. Because we really were a new team this year based on positions being played. But the senior leadership helped us get through that.”

Not only did they get through it, they thrived. That trio along with Johnson, Patek and fellow seniors Alex Deets and Sam Dudek have much to be proud of. They were ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 3 and finish the season with a 25-2 record.

“We worked it hard, we pushed each other every day to be better and the best we can be,” Erickson said. “And it brought us to state. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to win the game and get to the state championship game. But it was a good run.”

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