By Greg Bates
Times Press sports correspondent
Things were looking bleak at Christmas time for the Shiocton boys basketball team.
The Chiefs were sitting with a 3-4 record with a pair of tough nonconference games ahead of them. Shiocton went on to knock off Sturgeon Bay and Oconto on back-to-back days, which gave the players all the confidence they needed.
Following an early January loss to Green Bay Lutheran, Shiocton ran off 13 straight victories, the biggest was beating Central Wisconsin Conference – East favorite Iola-Scandinavia.
“We battled inconsistency early and I think in the second half consistency played a huge role in our winning streak,” Shiocton coach Chad Schmidt said.
An experienced Shiocton group started to play as one after the calendar switched to the new year.
“What I saw was much better defense,” said Schmidt, who was named the conference coach of the year for the fourth time in his career. “I thought we really played super man-to-man, very consistent man-to-man. Number two is we figured out our buddy passing and extra passes – finding guys within our offense and guys cutting to the right spots when certain cues happen. … All that stuff starts to get in your head and you’re not thinking as much. Also, individuals just stepping up and getting a lot better in their roles.”
The great team play by Shiocton resulted in the program’s third conference title in the last seven years, grabbing a share with Iola-Scandinavia.
“Last year we came up a little shy and this year we put in extra work, even though we weren’t expected to get it with Iola having an older core,” junior forward Austin Van Den Bosch said. “We pulled through and ended up getting it. It felt amazing.”
Iola-Scandinavia returned all five starters from the previous year and was predicted to take home the title. But Shiocton had other plans.
“It was great,” junior guard Derek Bedor said. “I love this team. I know we lost in the second round of the playoffs but was a good experience to tie with Iola because they’re such a good team.”
After beating Bonduel in the opening round of the WIAA Division 4 playoffs, Shiocton fell at Iola-Scandinavia 69-62 in a regional final on March 2.
Shiocton, which was one win away from the state tournament in 2018, finished with a 18-6 record this season and showed it is a true team through and through. It didn’t have a standout scorer but a bunch of guys who were consistent on the offensive end.
Van Den Bosch led the team at 13.3 points per game, followed by Bedor (13.1), Corbin Lorge (12.9), Cole Wilcox (9.0), Jack Fielding (8.9), Deven Bedor (7.2) and Caden Schmidt (4.0). Those seven players made up the rotation and they were guys who saw plenty of court time the season before.
“I think fortunately, it wasn’t a brand-new experience for a bunch of the guys, it was seven guys returning,” coach Schmidt said. “We weren’t as deep this year, but I think the whole key was some of the experience factor. But to the way the team is, there’s different guys you can plug in double-figure scoring. I really felt like we had seven quality starters on this team, I really do.”
Four of those players earned all-conference honors as Derek Bedor was named unanimous first team, Van Den Bosch and Lorge second team and Wilcox honorable mention.
That balanced scoring proved tough for teams to stop.
“A lot of teamwork,” Van Den Bosch said. “We’d all work together very well and if one person’s having an off night, we’d make up for it as a team and keep working the ball. There’s a lot of unselfishness and playing together and making extra passes to get more people the ball and more opportunities to score.”
Schmidt knew he had a lot of talented, passionate players coming into the season and they really lived up to and exceeded expectations.
“I think if you watch them play, I think you can see it that they love what they’re doing,” Schmidt said. “Not only do they love basketball but they love their teammates. They get along great, they’re unselfish. It doesn’t surprise you that one kid will drop 30 one night and that same kid might have eight the next night because somebody else or other guys pick up the scoring.”
Shiocton strung together another solid season. Consistency has been key to the program. In the last seven seasons, the Chiefs are 78-16 in conference play with six finishes in the top two.
“I think we’ve developed a good program here with a lot of hard work and a lot of people involved,” Schmidt said. “It means a lot because you’re consistently showing throughout the year that you’re one of the best teams.”
It’s important for the players to keep the program’s reputation high and compete for a conference crown every season.
“Everyone before us did good, so we want to keep that going,” Van Den Bosch said. “The grades below us when they come up can have someone to look up to. We would always look up to the grades older than us and how they would do so well in conference.”
The outlook for next season is extremely bright. Shiocton loses just one senior off this year’s squad, Fielding, who was primarily the sixth man. The team’s five starters – the Bedor brothers, Van Den Bosch, Lorge and Wilcox – will all be seniors. Caden Schmidt will be a junior.
“They’re going to be very hungry, this is their last chance,” Schmidt said.
The junior class is a tight-knit unit that Van Den Bosch calls a family.
“I think we’re going to have a good group and we’re going to all work well together,” Van Den Bosch said.
The seniors-to-be have been teammates since second grade and have great chemistry.
“We’ve been playing together so long that we know exactly what we’re going to do and we know where each other’s going to be when we drive it,” Derek Bedor said.
Schmidt believes next season he’ll also have some solid contributors who played junior varsity this year. The Chiefs could be nine to 10 guys deep in their rotation.
“I am beyond excited,” Bedor said. “I think we can do a lot that people don’t expect.”