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Wisconsin Lutheran finishes perfect season with Division 2 championship against Pewaukee

03/17/2024, 10:00am CDT
By Dick Knapinski

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The game that perhaps drew as much interest as any other at this year’s state tournament instead was the crowning moment for Wisconsin Lutheran’s perfect season. The Vikings’ 83-62 victory over Pewaukee in the Division 2 title game completed a 30-0 record and left coach Ryan Walz thinking that dreams do come true.

“I dreamed about having just this tremendous game that we would play, but I know in the reality of it, that’s not the way it goes,” Walz said. “You don’t always come out and play your very best game, but lo and behold, we came out and played the best game we played all year.”

There was very little drama for the Kohl Center crowd as the Vikings went up by 10 in the first half on their way to setting a Division 2 record for single-game shooting percentage, as they hit 34-of-50 attempts (68 percent). That erased the Division 2 all-time record of 66.7 percent set by Racine St. Catherine’s in 2005 and the Division 2 title game mark of 61.2 percent established by Freedom in 1990.

As good as Wisconsin Lutheran was with its 57.1 percent shooting in the first half, it was an astonishing 81.8 percent in the second. Most of that came in the paint, where the Vikings held a 50-20 scoring advantage over the Pirates.

After building an 18-point lead at the half, Wisconsin Lutheran could mostly cruise through the final 18 minutes, leading by as many 29 points late in the game. It also allowed Vikings senior Kon Knueppel to not worry about scoring and instead distribute.

“That’s the most fun; when you’ve got a game with 22 assists on 34 baskets, that’s why you play basketball,” Knueppel said after scoring just 11 points, but tying the Division 2 record of 11 assists set by Jordan McCabe of Kaukauna in 2018. The team’s 22 assists also set a Division 2 single-game record.

While Logan Rindfleisch led Wisconsin Lutheran with 20 points, 18 in the second half, but it was sophomore Zavier Zens who provided the early spark. Zens scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half on 5-of-5 shooting, including three three-pointers.

It was a big finish for Zens, who played some varsity time as a freshman but was sidelined by a slow-healing broken ankle suffered in April. He only rejoined the team in December and had built his scoring average to nearly 10 points per game by the state tourney.

“For a kid that age to miss that much basketball, and to come back with confidence to build throughout the season and have a game like tonight on the biggest stage, that speaks to his confidence and work ethic,” Walz said.

Pewaukee also shot well from the field (23-of-47, or 48.9 percent), which allowed the two teams to set a Division 2 record for combined shooting percentage at 58.5 percent. The previous mark of 55.6 percent was set by Adams-Friendship and Badger in 1999.

The Pirates could never get a run going to stop the Vikings, however, and saw their opportunity to become just the third school to win four straight WIAA state championships fade away.

“We got taken to the woodshed today by a team that was just about perfect,” said Pewaukee coach David Burkemper. “I thought that maybe for the first time, I coached with the weight of the expectations of winning a fourth in a row and just didn’t prepare our team well enough for one game.”

Pewaukee standout Nick Janowski finished with 13 points to share the team’s lead with Luke Momcilovic, but Janowski had to work hard for that as he hit just six of 17 shot attempts, including just one of eight three-point tries.

“It was kind of back-and-forth for the first three minutes, then they got to a two-, three-point lead and then it was five and then seven. We tried to take away the three, but then they’d go behind you with the back door play and make the layup,” Janowski said. “At that point, it just seemed there was nothing we could do.”

Alex Greene and Isaiah Mellock also added 11 points each for Wisconsin Lutheran, which also won state titles in 2009 and 2014. That makes Walz just the 15th coach to win at least three WIAA state championships.

“From day one, these guys bought in,” Walz said. “As the year went on, we just got better and better and better and better.”

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