Monona Grove High School boys’ basketball coach Dan Zweifel estimated it was 317 days since his team had a five-on-five scrimmage.
That was on March 6, 2020, when the Silver Eagles lost a WIAA Division 2 regional game to Stoughton, 53-45.
So, there was going to be some rust on the team entering its Jan. 16 season opener against River Falls at the Midwest Players Classic in La Crosse.
Monona Grove was a last-minute fill-in and just their luck, they had to play a team that already had 11 games under its belt, two 6-foot-9 forwards: Liam Dougherty and J.T. Dougherty, and 6-foot-3 Zac Johnson, who recently became River Falls’ all-time leading scorer.
Despite all that, Zweifel didn’t have a lot of criticism about his team’s 67-54 loss.
The Silver Eagles practice routine has been hamstrung by Dane County regulations on public gatherings to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We’ve been able to practice and do some small group stuff, but we are limited to do individual drills, and we can do some partner things, but we have not been able to do some five-on-five things,” Zweifel said.
Monona Grove was also without the services of 6-foot-5 senior forward Connor Bracken, who had to sit out the game due to COVID-19 protocols.
Yet, the Silver Eagles stayed close to the Wildcats as Zweifel used a three-two zone defense to keep the Doughterys at bay and control the offense prowess of Johnson.
“We didn’t match up with those big guys with Bracken out of the game,” Zweifel said, explaining his choice to use the zone.
Monona Grove trailed 28-25 with two minutes left in the first half, but River Falls scored six in a row to lead 34-25.
The Silver Eagles stayed in the game for the first 10 minutes of the second half before Johnson got hot and started hitting a series of 3-point shots and mid-range jumpers.
Johnson ended the game with 32 points, including five shots from the arc. Liam Dougherty scored 12 points and JT Dougherty had eight.
The Silver Eagles had their share of great performances, including Jordan Hibner, who scored 12 points in the second half and wound up with a team-high 19. Lance Nelso had 18 points, including 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
“We got tired and made a few mistakes, but overall, the kids battled hard and played hard, and I thought we played them pretty well,” Zweifel said. “It was a lot of fun and the kids had fun. The kids had their masks on, but you could tell they were smiling because they had the chance to play.”
Monona Grove’s next game is Thursday, Jan. 21 at Monroe, with tipoff scheduled for 7:15 p.m. The Cheesemakers won their first five games before losing Jan. 16 to Janesville Parker 67-62 in double overtime.