The first time the McFarland High School boys basketball team played Madison Edgewood on Feb. 8, the circumstances were different. The COVID-19 pandemic put restrictions on how the Spartans could practice, and McFarland lost 54-52. Head Coach Jeff Meinholdt said the team was better prepared Feb. 20 when it had to play the Crusaders in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) Division 2 Regional final.
“We made a lot of adjustments with our offense and defense since then due to the new public health order allowing us to scrimmage in practice,” Meinholdt said. “That made a world of difference with our practices and game preparation.”
But McFarland failed again to take down Edgewood.
Michael Regnier had 17 points and Ovu Nwankwo had 10 to lift the Crusaders to a 55-53 victory. McFarland ended its season at 8-5.
Edgewood led 32-27 at halftime but the Spartans stayed in the game throughout the second half. Meinholdt said his team had good scoring opportunities but couldn’t turn them into points.
“We had some empty possessions on offense where we had several baskets that went in and out and the ball just didn’t fall. We were getting stops on the defensive end, but we couldn’t cash in on the offensive end,” he said.
The Spartans struggled with free-throw shooting, making only six of 15. But, the team was still in a position to win at the end.
“We had an end of game play and they ran it to perfection. We were inches away from that ball going in and winning the regional final,” Meinholdt said.
Senior Jackson Werwinski led McFarland with 19 points, senior Pete Pavelec had 10 and sophomore Dadon Gillen had nine.
Madison Edgewood made 14 of 18 free throws and hit five shots from the arc.
McFarland will graduate eight seniors from the team, including Werwinski, Pavelec, Blake Kes, Garrett Larson, Jacob Semmann, Josh Jansen, Ryan Olsen, Aric Anderson and Ben Pimental. Meinholdt said their leadership was second to none.
“With everything we had to deal with, they stepped up and pushed our young guys to be the best they could be every day,” Meinholdt said. “Their work ethic and leadership will go a long way as we head into next season. They are amazing players on the court and are amazing people off the court, too. We are truly going to miss this class.”
Underclass returnees will include Gillen, juniors Zach Nichols, Jaden Noyes and Ryan Vogel, sophomores Kyle Kussow and Aidan Chislom and freshman Andrew Kelley.
Meinholdt was happy the team was able to play 10 regular season games and then win two playoff games despite the obstacles of COVID-19.
“I think everyone involved – the coaches, players, parents — were just grateful we got the chance to play, and I feel that no day was taken for granted,” he said. “Our players stepped up and found a way to compete at a high level. Our team doing the best they could when life wasn’t anything close to normal and not taking anything for granted.”
Like it has throughout the season, defense played the key role for the McFarland High School boys’ basketball team Friday Feb. 19 at Lodi in the second-round regional game. Pavelec scored 22 points as the Spartans knocked off the Blue Devils, 66-57.
“Our defense is carrying us right now. Our intensity, our willingness to attack other offenses and try to get them uncomfortable,” said McFarland Head Coach Jeff Meinholdt. “I think we did that. It led to Lodi taking some poor shots and led to us scoring on the other end. We took our best punch tonight, that’s for sure.”
“We knew our defense was going to be the key,” said Pavelec. “We had a good defense all year long, and we just had to keep that up while the offense was getting better every week.”
Pavelec got the Spartans’ offense off to a good start by hitting three 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the first half for a 18-5 McFarland lead at the 10:10 mark. Blake Kes’ three put the Spartans on top 25-12 and other key buckets by Aidan Chislom and Garrett Larson led to a 31-19 halftime lead.
Lodi scored the first seven points of the second half to close within 31-26 and lowered the lead to 48-45 with 4:30 to play. But a bench technical foul by the Blue Devils tipped the game McFarland’s way as Pavelec hit two free throws and Chislom added two more to put McFarland ahead 56-47 with 2:41 remaining. McFarland didn’t score a field goal in the final three minutes, but free throws by Pavelec and Werwinski sealed the victory.
Meinholdt was impressed with his team’s mental toughness when Lodi appeared to have it on the ropes.
“We told our guys in a playoff game they are going to have some ups and downs,” he said. “They weathered everything Lodi threw at them. We were always getting that key stop, key rebound, key basket. Whatever we needed, it was just a total team effort tonight. We weathered some storms and mentally handled them very well.”
Larson, who had six points, said fighting for rebounds was difficult against Lodi’s talented athletes.
“They had some big, long athletic guys, so you had to fight for position to get to the ball,” he said.
Werwinski had 12 points, and Chislom and Kes both reached double figures with 10 points each.
Pavelec had 20 points to lead the Spartans over the Hilltoppers in the Feb. 16 first-round regional game at Platteville.
Werwinski added 14 and Gillen put in 11 as McFarland jumped ahead 27-15 at halftime, and then outscored Platteville 40-18 in the second half. All season, Platteville had been a low-scoring team with less than 50 points in 18 of its 22 games. Meinholdt’s strategy worked well against the Hilltoppers.
“Our game plan was to speed them up as much as possible, and I think we accomplished that,” he said. “We took them out of their offense and forced them into some uncomfortable situations.”
Werwinski added 14 points and Gillen scored 11. Meinholdt said his entire team worked well together to force Platteville into 34 turnovers.
“I thought we kept our foot on the gas and that really fueled our run when we held Platteville to just four points in the first eight minutes of the second half,” he said. “From there, we took control of the game and everyone that saw minutes contributed in a positive way.”