Aside from winning games and teaching student-athletes the fundamentals that will help them succeed in sports and life, coaches are often proud of accomplishing major milestones.
Jeff Meinholdt, who has accomplished so much as the head coach of the McFarland High School boys’ basketball team, reached a significant milestone – his 200th career victory – on Saturday Jan. 9, as the Spartans held off Beloit Turner 61-59 in overtime in their season opener of a shortened 2021 schedule.
Beating the Trojans wasn’t easy, but Meinholdt was pleased with his team’s performance in its first game in about 10 months. Beloit Turner had already played in seven games with a 2-5 record. The wins came against Clinton and Jefferson.
It appeared the Spartans would put the Trojans away early, as they led 22-14 at the half, then opened a 35-20 advantage with 10 minutes left in regulation. But Turner went on an 18-3 run and tied the game 38-38 with 5:08 remaining.
“I think our conditioning played a huge factor with the lead disappearing. We came out of the gates playing fast and furious, but we hit a stretch where we couldn’t get stops on defense and our offense sputtered a bit,” Meinholdt said. “Being our first game and Turner’s eighth game, it was definitely evident that our conditioning came into play.”
Some clutch free-throw shooting by Garrett Larson gave the Spartans a 46-42 lead with 16.9 seconds left in regulation. But two foul shots and a last-second layup forced overtime with the teams deadlocked 47-47.
Most of the scoring in the four-minute overtime came from free throws, as the Spartans seemed to have the game under control at 59-53 with 12 seconds to play. But the Trojans continued to fight as the Spartans hung on to take the win.
The game included 70 fouls called and 81 free throws from both teams. McFarland’s three leading scorers from 2019-20, Jackson Werwinski, Blake Kes and Pete Pavelec, all fouled out and three Beloit Turner players were forced to the bench after recording five fouls.
Meinholdt said he wasn’t aware so many fouls were called until the game was over.
“Having our top three scorers from last season foul out was a concern, but thankfully we had some guys step up in crucial plays that made big baskets, created some turnovers, or just made great hustle plays,” Meinholdt said. “As a staff, we were very pleased with how our players showed some mental toughness playing through all those fouls.”
Pavelec was the only Spartan to hit a 3-point shot, but Meinholdt said he was confident the team’s outside shooting will improve.
“We will get there. With everything given to us related to COVID, our delayed start, our lack of scrimmage time, we will get those game rhythm shots to fall,” he said. “We rep those shots a ton in practice, but not against a live defense due to protocols put forth by Dane County. We have players that can knock down the three consistently, so we’re not overly concerned.”
Werwinski led McFarland with 18, and Larson and sophomore Dadon Gillen each had 11. Beloit Turner’s Donavahn Cain led all scorers with 29.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions established by public health officials in Dane County, McFarland will be forced to play all its games on the road in neighboring counties where the requirements are not as strict.
No fans will be allowed at the games, and the only attendees will be the players, coaches, officials, clock operator and scorebook keeper.
McFarland’s next game is Thursday, Jan. 14 at Brodhead, with tip-off scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
Werwinski had 23 points and Pavelec scored 22 as the Spartans came from behind Jan. 11 to win at Jefferson.
The Eagles led 31-29 at the half, but McFarland’s offense gained some steam in the second half and opened a 40-30 lead with 10 minutes to play. The Spartans outscored Jefferson in the second half 48-37.
Larson also reached double figures with 14 points, and Gillen added seven. Jefferson was led by Haygen Miller with 17 points, Braden McGraw scored 16 and Isaiah Hoffman had 11.
The Spartans graduated four seniors from the 2019-20 team, including Ethan Nichols, Autin Miller, BJ Bruce and Max Hanson.
This year’s squad will have nine seniors including Werwinski, who led the team with a 14.2 points per game average last season, and Kes and Pavelec, who both averaged 13 points.
Werwinski was named All-Rock Valley Conference second team, and Kes and Pavelec were chosen honorable mention.
Other seniors include 6-foot-4 forward Hanson, Aric Anderson, Josh Jansen, Ryan Olsen, Ben Pimental and Jacob Semmann.
One key returnee is junior Zach Nichols, who averaged 6.2 points per game in 2019-20.
Jaden Joyes and Ryan Vogel are also juniors, Dadon Gillen, Kyle Kussow and Aidan Chislom are sophomores. Andrew Kelley is the only freshman.
McFarland was 12-12 overall last season and 9-9 in the Rock Valley Conference.