WAKEFIELD – After ending a 12-year drought of not qualifying for the state tournament last season, the Wakefield boys basketball team looked to make a repeat trip but knew the road ahead would be challenging.
The Trojans played in a tough conference which sent four to state (LCC, Ponca, Osmond and Randolph) this year as Wakefield finished just above .500 with a 12-11 record falling to an eventual state champion at the end of the year.
Coach Joe Wendte said the team struggled early on and had some things to figure out running into high caliber teams.
“Playing the likes of BRLD who won state and Ponca how well they were playing down the stretch,” said Wendte. “The teams we played in Iowa, Siouxland Christian really made a run in Iowa. All of our losses were pretty legit losses. So, you know, you can look at the win-loss and say it was kind of a down year but I really think we did a good job in developing players. I think we’re really set up for a nice season to have next year.”
Coach Wendte recently completed his sixth year at the helm for the Trojans. He added the competition they played made them better in the long run.
“I didn’t even mention Laurel (LCC); they won state,” Wendte added. “We had to play them twice within a week. Went from a 40-point deficit to being right there at the end of the fourth quarter. Hitting a couple shots here or there could have changed the difference in the game. I just think one thing we’re taking away is we want to be positive for next year. We really want to look at the positives and be more patient for next year.”
The Trojans started strong going 4-2 early before falling to Winnebago (66-60) in the Shootout on the Elkhorn. Wakefield then went 5-4 during the month of January before a 1-1 finish in the Lewis & Clark Conference Tourney. The team ended the year winning two of their final five games.
Coach Wendte mentioned the conference is tough year in and year out.
“From top to bottom,” Wendte mentioned. “I mean if you’re even playing a 10 or 11 seed it’s not a guaranteed victory in the conference tournament. That just attests how good this conference is and even how well they do at state.”
Junior Blake Brown missed only one game all season but paced the team in scoring with 18.7 ppg. He also averaged 4.7 boards, 4.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game. Brown knocked down a team-high 41 triples (32%) while going 70-96 (72%) from the foul line and finishing the year 47% from the field.
Brown was four points shy from the single season scoring record (415). He finished with 411 points his junior season.
Junior Justin Erb followed with 11.7 points and led the team in rebounding at 6.3 per game. Senior Blake Heimann was third in scoring (6.8), freshman Cade Johnson averaged 6.7 ppg and senior Gabe Peitz rounded out the top five scorers with 4.5 ppg.
Erb was second in made three’s with 23 going 23% from behind the arc, 49-65 (75%) from the foul line and 43% from the field.
The Trojans will graduate six seniors being Heimann and Peitz along with Dawson Samuelson, Logan Slama as well as Zephan and Divon Tinsley.
Coach Wendte said the group had tremendous heart and were really good leaders.
“We went back and looked at their eighth-grade year of basketball and I think they went 3-7 or 3-8 in junior high,” Wendte added. “Then fast forward they had four winning records every year in high school and obviously a state tournament appearance. Just the mark they left on the program and the weight room will never be forgotten. Even the guys that didn’t play, they really brought it every day in practice.”
Teams across the country are hoping they can get some summer league games in but coach Wendte wants to see next year’s team take it a step further.
“We need leaders to emerge and overall toughness,” said Wendte. “I feel like that’s one thing that’s going to be talked about this next coming season is I want us to be tough on the court. We are tough, I just want us to take it a step further and I think we can rally win a lot of basketball games.”
Juniors Blake Brown and Justin Erb of Wakefield garnered Lewis & Clark East Division All-Conference recognition and senior Gabe Peitz finished honorable mention.