By Greg Bates
Times-Press sports correspondent
Coaching his son’s class since they were in second grade, Jon Murphy knew once the group was seniors, they would have a special season.
Riley Murphy and his teammates certainly had a year to remember. However, getting beaten in the sectional semifinals wasn’t ideally in the plans.
“Once you take a little time and look at everything: we took the floor 25 times and won 23 of them,” coach Murphy said. “Won a Bay Conference title, won a regional championship. A great group of juniors and seniors, and a great season, I thought.”
The Thunder (23-2) started the season by winning their first 15 games, blowing out teams on average by 23.9 points. The guys were dominant.
Getting tripped up at New London on Feb. 4 was an eye-opener for the Seymour players. They rebounded the next game with their biggest win of the season, beating host Xavier 82-78 to all but wrapped up the Bay Conference crown. It was the first home loss by Xavier in 31 conference games.
“A lot of big wins,” coach Murphy said. “That was kind of the game we had to get to ensure that we would win the conference. That was definitely one of the biggest wins of the year. Xavier had won so many in a row and had not lost at home in five years, so our kids went in there and got it done. That was an exciting time.”
It was Seymour’s first conference title since the 2014-15 season.
The Thunder rolled into the postseason ranked No. 4 in Division 2 in the WisSports.net Coaches Poll and earned a No. 1 seed. After wins over Green Bay Southwest and Luxemburg-Casco, Seymour had a tough draw against No. 3-seeded Kaukauna in a sectional semifinal. In a tight contest, the Ghosts led 55-53 before closing out the game on a 15-5 run to pull off a 70-58 victory on March 12.
With the WIAA limiting how many people could be in the gym due to COVID-19, the game was a different atmosphere for everyone involved.
“That whole year you work up to that moment — it was definitely weird,” Seymour senior Riley Murphy said. “No one’s ever played like that. It just felt weird.”
It ended up being the last game of the season for every boys basketball team as the WIAA cancelled the remainder of the tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We pretty much knew going into that game – both teams did – that it was over,” coach Murphy said. “We had already heard the girls state tournament was going to be cancelled, so everybody knew it. Usually for a sectional game there’s 2,500 people and it’s really rocking, and we played in front of an empty gym and it was really anticlimactic. Still tough to lose, but maybe there was a little comfort that everyone was done the same night.”
Knowing the season was over win or lose might have softened the blow a little bit.
“At the end it was still kind of like, hey, this is it. It’s over,” Riley Murphy said. “I felt bad for the people who did win. That’s probably even worse.”
Seymour had a heck of an offensive season, averaging 78.6 points per game. Guard Mason Dorn had a breakout year, putting up 24.4 points and 5.6 assists per game. He turned into one of the best juniors in the state.
“He discovered like everybody else, he was finding out like what he could do,” coach Murphy said. “As his confidence grew, he could score against anybody. He had a very special season. I think he had more points than anybody ever has from Seymour in a single season.”
With the emergence of Dorn, a lot of weight was off the shoulders of Riley Murphy. He didn’t have to be the team’s go-scorer; he could be a role player, a decoy in some instances. Murphy still averaged 13.9 points per game.
“What it really showed is he just wanted to win,” coach Murphy said. “That’s a trait that marked the senior class. It became apparent early on this year that Mason Dorn had special talent. … There was never anybody on that team, juniors or seniors, that were jealous of this or we’re envious of that. That was Mason included, Riley included. They just wanted to win.”
“It’s obviously good to be able to play with people like that,” said Riley Murphy about playing with Dorn. “It makes it easier on everyone else. It really wasn’t much of a switch. We kind of just ran with the offense. If he’s got a shot, he can take it. If I’ve got a shot, I’m going to take it.”
Seymour had another solid senior class with starters Murphy and Brock Volkman along with Rhett Dreissen and Tyler Vandecorput, who both earned starts over the years. The other seniors include Chayton Mousseau, Jacob Schaumberg, Brady Mueller and Quincey Wussow.
“It is a group, parents included, that were supportive of their kids and each other – sometimes you just don’t get that today,” coach Murphy said. “This group of kids we’ll definitely miss. They had a couple amazing years here and they’re all ready for the next step in their journey. They’re all going to college, so it’s an exciting time for them, too.”
Riley Murphy hopes the senior class will leave a lasting impression on the program.
“Just want to leave like the legacy of being a good teammate and just working hard and playing the best you can,” Riley Murphy said. “If you do that, you’ll be fine.”
Jon Murphy enjoyed being able to coach another one of his kids throughout his basketball career.
“It was just a lot of fun,” coach Murphy said. “As a dad and as a coach, maybe it’s a little bit more special in that you were able to go through it with your son. Riley and I have spent so much time in that gym together since he could walk that it was just a rewarding experience and kind of the culmination of a long career here at Seymour for me. It was special, something I’ll never forget.”
Seymour loses two starters in Murphy and Volkman, but the Thunder have some really good pieces returning in starters juniors Dorn and Peyton Van De Hei (10.9 points and 9 rebounds per game) and sophomore Daniel Inman (4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds). Treyton Cornell came off the bench to put in key minutes and averaged 5.2 points per game. Coach Murphy said the junior varsity players coming up is a strong group as well.
“The sky’s the limit,” coach Murphy said. “They’ve got to work hard, but they’ve got a chance to be just as good.”
Following the season-ending loss, coach Murphy was asked by a number of folks if that was it for his coaching career. Murphy is retiring as a teacher at the end of this school year, but he’s undetermined about coaching.
Murphy has put in 33 years at Seymour and amassed a record of 615-193, which is fourth on the all-time wins list for Wisconsin boys basketball coaches.
“I’m taking a month or two and see how I feel after this is all done,” said coach Murphy on March 20. “But if it was the end, I couldn’t be happier with the group of kids and really the entire 33 years. The fact that I started at 23 years old at Seymour and I’m 57 years old now and I’m still coaching at the same place, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
Riley Murphy knows how much time his dad has put into coaching. He’s sat back and watched an illustrious career.
“He’s been doing it for a very long time, so if that’s it for him, we had a really good last year,” Riley Murphy said. “It’s a weird way to end it, so that’s obviously different. But if it’s time, it’s time.
“He’s talked about both, he really has. He’s talked about coming back and he’s talked about being done. He could do either. That’s kind of the thing about it, I have no idea.”
Said coach Murphy: “We’ll see what happens with the craziness that’s going on in the world right now, but we’re going to take the time right now.”