Senior-laden Columbus Catholic brings experience, balance to WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament

Guard Noah Taylor is one of five senior starters for the Columbus Catholic boys basketball team that will be playing in a Division 5 semifinal at the WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament in Madison on Friday. (Photo by Paul Lecker/For OnFocus)

By Paul Lecker
For OnFocus

MARSHFIELD – The Marshfield Columbus Catholic boys basketball team is hoping the third time is a charm.

Columbus Catholic will be heading to the WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament in Madison for the third time in school history. After dropping semifinal matchups in its first two trips, the Dons are poised to earn a win. Or two.

Columbus Catholic lost to Randolph 69-50 in a Division 4 state semifinal in 2003 and just two years ago, fell to Barneveld in a Division 5 semifinal 72-52.

The Dons (25-2) will play defending D-5 state champion Bangor (25-1) in a semifinal matchup at 10:45 a.m. Friday at the Kohl Center. Chippewa Falls McDonell (18-9) and Sheboygan Area Lutheran (25-2) play in the other semifinal Friday at 9 a.m. The winners will meet for the Division 5 state title on Saturday at 11 a.m.

All of the state tournament games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be televised live on WAOW-TV 9 and any Columbus Catholic games will have a free and live audio broadcast heard by clicking here

Columbus puts out a lineup of five seniors, four of which average between 14.2 and 16.6 points per game, led by 6-foot-4 forward Bryce Fuerlinger.

Fuerlinger averaged 16.6 points and 13.2 rebounds per game, shooting 70 percent from the field. Guards Noah Taylor (15.7 points per game) and Jarred Mandel (14.7 ppg), and forward Ethan Meece (14.2 ppg) also average double digits for the Dons. Senior Kellen Heinzen (2.7 ppg) rounds out the experienced starting lineup.

The Dons’ balanced attack includes junior reserve guard Tom Nystrom, who averages just 4.8 points per game, but came up huge with five 3-pointers and 15 points in their come-from-behind win over Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran in the sectional final March 9.

Columbus Catholic senoir forward Ethan Meece in one of four Dons avearging between 14 and 17 points per game. The Dons (25-2) will play Bangor (25-1) in a Division 5 semifinal at the WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament in Madison on Friday. (Photo by Paul Lecker/For OnFocus

“Sometimes good players cover up other good players,” Columbus Catholic coach Joe Koniecnzy said. “Jared, Noah, Bryce Fuerlinger and Ethan Meece all average between (14 and 17) a game. Tommy has the ability to. When they were taking away some things these last two games (in the playoffs), he really (stepped up).”

The Dons hope their experience will continue to prove big for them on the court.

Mandel and Meece came off the bench as sophomores during the Dons’ state tournament run in 2017, but the entire group was key in a run to the sectional final a year ago, and in clinching Columbus’ fourth-straight Cloverbelt Conference East Division title this season.

“It means so much,” Taylor said of the run to the state tournament with his fellow seniors. “Hopefully I get to play two more games with these guys. They’re awesome and I wouldn’t take any other guys over them. I’m so happy I get to play, hopefully, two more games with them.”

Not only is Mandel excited to get a chance to play again on the Kohl Center floor, he’s expecting more than just an appearance.

“Two years ago was awesome,” Mandel said. “We had a great time, but we knew we didn’t do our best down there. With this senior class, we’ve had a bond since third grade. Noah Taylor joined us in eighth grade, we played with him even when we were young, and we’ve all been close. This is the icing on the cake, to end our careers at the Kohl Center is more than exciting, it’s surreal.”

Bangor’s top three scorers are all underclassmen. Junior 6-4 forward Grant Manke tops the Cardinals at 23.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, making nearly 69 percent of his shot attempts. Sophomore guards Zane Langrehr (12.2 ppg) and Hank Reader (11 ppg) bring a threat from the outside as well, with Langrehr making a team-best 50 3-pointers.

2019 WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament
March 14-16, at the Kohl Center, Madison
Thursday, March 14
Division 3 semifinals

No. 1 Greendale Martin Luther (23-3) vs. No. 4 Northwestern, 1:35 p.m.
No. 2 Waupun (25-1) vs. No. 3 Denmark (22-4), 3:15 p.m.
Division 4 semifinals
No. 1 Manitowoc Roncalli (26-0) vs. No. 4 New Glarus (24-2), 6:35 p.m.
No. 2 Oshkosh Lourdes (25-1) vs. No. 3 Osseo-Fairchild (25-1), 8:15 p.m.
Friday, March 15
Division 5 semifinals

No. 1 Sheboygan Lutheran (25-2) vs. No. 4 Chippewa Falls McDonell (18-9), 9:05 a.m.
No. 2 Marshfield Columbus Catholic (25-2) vs. No. 3 Bangor (25-1), 10:45 a.m.
Division 2 semifinals
No. 1 Glendale Nicolet (25-1) vs. No. 4 Elkhorn (23-3), 1:35 p.m.
No. 2 Milwaukee Washington (21-5) vs. No. 3 La Crosse Central (24-2), 3:15 p.m.
Division 1 semifinals
No. 1 Brookfield Central (21-5) vs. No. 4 Neenah (18-7), 6:35 p.m.
No. 2 West Allis Central (22-3) vs. No. 3 Sun Prairie (20-6), 8:15 p.m.
Saturday, March 16
Championship games

Division 5, 11:05 a.m.
Division 4, 12:45 p.m.
Division 3, 2:30 p.m.
Division 2, 6:35 p.m.
Division 1, 8:15 p.m.

Division 5 Notes
COLUMBUS CATHOLIC DONS
Record:
25-2, Champions of Cloverbelt Conference East Division (16-0).
Coach: Joe Konieczny, 14th year at Columbus (274-80).
Projected starting lineup: Bryce Fuerlinger, 6-4, sr., F, 16.6 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.2 steals per game, 70.3 field goal percentage; Noah Taylor, 6-0, sr., G, 15.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists per game; Jarred Mandel, 6-3, sr., G, 14.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists per game, 56 made 3-pointers; Ethan Meece, 6-2, sr., F, 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds per game, 23 made 3-pointers; Kellen Heinzen, 6-0, sr., G, 2.7 points per game.
Top reserves: Tom Nystrom, 5-9, jr., G, 4.8 points per game, team-best 3-point percentage (36.5 percent, 31-for-85); Jadon Nienast, 5-11, so., G, 3.3 points per game; Eden Jacobson, 6-0, so., F, 2.4 points per game.
BANGOR CARDINALS
Record:
25-1, Champions of Scenic Bluffs Conference (14-0).
Coach: Jacob Pederson, first year.
Projected starting lineup: Grant Manke, 6-4, jr., F, 23.6 points, 13.6 rebounds per game, 68.8 percent field goal percentage; Zane Langrehr, 6-2, so., F, 12.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game, team-best 50 made 3-pointers; Hank Reader, 6-0, so., G, 11.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game; Trevor Jones, 5-10, sr., G, 8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists per game; Jaymeson Freit, 5-10, sr., G, 8.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game.
Top reserves: Jaden Fargen, 6-0, sr., G, 4.3 points per game; Brayden Horstman, 6-1, sr., F, 2.4 points per game; Dylan Sprain, 5-1, sr., G, 1.5 points per game.
SHEBOYGAN AREA LUTHERAN CRUSADERS
Record:
25-2, tied for Big East Conference title with Howards Grove and Oostburg (14-2).
Coach: Nick Verhagen, seventh year (134-47).
Projected starters: Jacob Ognacevic, 6-7, jr., C, 30.5 points, 15.6 rebounds, 2 blocks per game, 64.5 percent field goal percentage, 84.8 percent free throw percentage (178-for-210); Delvin Barnstable, 6-0, sr., G, 17.3 points, 3.6 rebounds per game, 40 percent 3-point shooter (66-for-165); Casey Verhagen, 5-11, fr., G, 10.5 points, 4 rebounds, 9.7 assists per game; Graden Grabowski, 6-3, sr., F, 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds per game; Jonah Jurss, 6-0, so., G, 6.8 points, 3.2 rebounds per game.
Top reserves: Michael Berger, 5-11, sr., G, 1.9 points per game; Joseph-Thomas Schultz, 6-1, so., G, 1.4 points per game.
CHIPPEWA FALLS McDONELL MACKS
Record:
18-9, second place in Cloverbelt Conference West Division (9-5).
Coach: Adam Schilling, first year.
Projected starters: Cory Hoglund, 6-3, sr., G, 16.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists per game, 46 made 3-pointers; Charlie Bleskacheck, 6-4, sr., F, 12.2 points, 7.0 rebounds per game, 43.8 percent 3-point shooter (60-for-137); Eion Kressin, 6-5, jr., C, 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds per game; J.D. Bohaty, 6-2, jr., G, 8.7 points per game, 55 made 3-pointers; Efe Selvitopu, 5-11, sr., G, 3.4 points, 2.5 assists per game.
Top reserves: Jaebin Bourget, 5-11, sr., G, 3.9 points per game; Caleb Thorton, 6-1, jr., F, 1.6 points per game.