Elmwood to try and knock-off No. 1 at state tourney
Randolph's domination of Wisconsin prep boys' small school basketball over the past 15 years began the very last season Elmwood High School made the state tournament. The two schools come full circle in the Kohl Center in Madison at the WIAA Division 5 State Tournament semifinals Thursday afternoon. tip-off should be approximately 3:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on WQOW-TV and WXOW-TV locally.
Randolph won its first state title that year over the Raiders 72-65 when there were four divisions in basketball. Jarod Marson scored 20 points, Don Koehler had 13 points and Tim Krech scored 15 points. But it wasn't enough as the Rockets took an 18-11 first quarter lead and held onto it the rest of the way. They had five players in double figures.
Then Elmwood head coach Curt Weber's team was state runner-ups despite a 16-11 record. Playing the mostly Division 2 and 3 Dunn-St. Croix teams toughened up the Raiders to enable them to tear through five Lakeland Conference ballclubs (Elmwood 73, Clear Lake 52; Elmwood 76, Clayton 55; Elmwood 71, Tutle Lake 56; Elmwood 66, Luck 63; and Elmwood 54, Flambeau 42) on their way to state. Elmwood got to the finals by beating Kickapoo 74-54. Marson and Krech were the top two scorers of that year's Division 4 tournament and EHS was the third Pierce County team in a row to win the Spooner Sectional as Plum City did so in 1994 and '95 and the fifth in the last six seasons as Spring Valley won the 1991 and '92 titles (South Shore won the Spooner Sectional title in 1993).
Current Elmwood head coach Chris Segerstrom believes the same D-SC toughness is benefiting this year's Raider squad as well as they finished with 12-4 conference mark in a round-robin, unlike the Large-Small division set-up of 1995-96 season.
"It's a physical league and to survive and succeed for 16 games you have to be tough," Sgerstrom said. "It makes us battle tested."
From 1996 onward Randolph went on to win eight more state titles for a state record nine. They won four in a row from 2002-05 and back-to-back in 2007-08 and 2010-11 behind such great players as former UW and now Minnesota Timberwolf Greg Stiemsma and Division I collegiates Ryan Tillema and Kyle Kelm. They were also won the title in 1998 and were runners-up in 1997. This is their 15th trip to state since their first trip back in 1988.
This year's Rocket squad, 25-2 overall and ranked No. 1 in the state, would seem to be in the same fashion. However, the Rockets do not have the towering height as past Randolph championship squads which overwhelmed their often smaller opponents. Not that Randolph has a bunch of mites by any means. Their three top scorers, forwards Jay Peters, Aaron Retzlaff, and Kyle Roberts are 6-5, 6-4 and 6-3 respectively. Both Peters and Retzlaff average in double figures in scoring. They also have have several 6-3 and 6-4 kids to call off the bench as well.
The key to Randolph's success this year may well be its backcourt, led by sophomore Duke Vander Gailen, who averages nearly nine points per game and four assisst per game. He has a interesting backstory of his own having been adopted to a local family from an orphanage in Kenya.
Randolph has beaten several schools treble its size this season, including Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln, Oregon and West Salem. The Rockets' only losses were to Danville, Iowa, one of the top prep teams in Hawkeye State and to Pardeeville. This loss was significant because not only did it snap Randolph's conference winning streak at 175, but it was to a squad only a few games above .500. Indeed, several of Randolph's wins, even against small school opponents have been close. Still, with several players having been on the Rockets' 2011 state tourney squad, this year's team has handle more adverse situations than the program is normally used to according to veteran head coach Bob Haffele.
"Because our football team went deep in the playoffs, we got off to a slow start," Haffele said. "We had to win a lot of close games and then you throw in the Pardeeville loss, although we had already won the league title again. But we've handled adversity well this season and it's a credit to the team's leadership. We put the loss to Pardeeville behind real quick and moved on through the playoffs."
So Elmwood, 23-4 overall, will be facing a very good but not physically dominant Randolph squad in the state semifinals. To win they will need to play the same kind tough defense which enabled them to get through the tournament (in which the Red and Black label defeated the conference champs of the Dairyland Small (Cochrane-Fountain City) and Scenic Bluff (No. 8 ranked Royall) leagues) control the boards (6-5 center Kyle Webb being the top rebounder of sectional tournament averaging double figures in rebounding) along with avoiding turnovers. Elmwood had 20 TOs against Royall and only the nine three-pointers EHS buried (Tom LaFlex made five of them) offset this. Such numbers could be fatal against a Randolph squad Haffele feels is one of his best defensively.
"It something we've talked about as team and we realize we need to take of the ball to win," Segerstrom said. "Randolph has size, length and athleticism and all those things make for good defense so we're going to value every possesion and get good shots from them, especially if the game is going to be more up-tempo as they like to play."
The other Division 5 semifinals pits No. 6 Drummond, 24-2, against No. 2 Green Bay NEW Lutheran, 27-0. That game will begin at 1:35 p.m. Elmwood is the only unranked team in the Division 5 field (although they were ranked briefly earlier in the season) and the smallest school in the field as well with just 102 students.
Elmwood's tourney run to state helped the team's top scorer Logan Wolf become only the second EHS players since 2000 to go over 1,000 points along with Steve Pax. Webb has 926 points in his career.