Though they made it look easy for much of the 61-43 WIAA Division 4 state championship game victory over long-time rival Cuba City on Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center, there was nothing easy about the road Whitefish Bay Dominican took to get to this rarest of moments.
Coach Paul Wollersheim was not referring to the impressive tournament run that the Knights turned in, in which every game was claimed by double digits.
No, he went further back.
"There's no doubt that we have a very talented team," said Wollersheim, "and the key with that is to get them to share the ball and like each other. But over the summer, it was not very pretty at times, but they have come so far.
"I've just been amazed at how much they care for each other. See how they all pull for each other and how it was all about the team. It's just very gratifying for me to be in this situation."
When asked how this particular title felt, Wollersheim pointed to senior guard Jamall Taylor, who had 18 points and five assists to finish out his spectacular career.
He's the "emotional one" on the team, said Wollersheim.
"I can't believe I'm sitting here (in the media room) like this," Taylor said. "We worked hard for four years to get here and I just can't think it can get any better than this."
His running mate, junior Duane Wilson, who led all scorers with 24 points, including four of six three-pointers and 15 points in the first half, concurred.
"Me and JT were roomates (at state) and we just couldn't sleep last night thinking about this," he said. "It's just the best thing to go out like this. We've been working with one another so hard for so long.
"It just feels really good."
The state title is the third in Wollersheim's tenure at Dominican, to go along with other championships won in 2004 and 2005. In doing so, the Knights denied a fourth crown to legendary coach Jerry Petitgoue, who will make an announcement Monday about whether he is retiring or not after 44 years.
Petitgoue, a favorite of many throughout the state, was left wiping away tears as he left the Kohl Center interview room this afternoon.
"We had no illusion about playing this one," he said. "There was one paper that said we were the overwhelming favorite in this thing, but obviously, they had not seen Dominican. It was funny, they were in (Division) 3 last year and I tell you, I would have been happy if they had stayed there this year, but here they were down in four.
"But let's face it, we just got beat by a better team."
They did, as the Knights (27-1) whose only loss is to unbeaten Division 1 finalist Germantown (27-0), established control early, with three three-pointers from the same spot on the left wing. The first was by Wilson and the next two were by Taylor and that made it 9-0 at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter.
"Getting into that kind of hole was not what we were looking for," said Petitgoue
Cuba City, which had won every game this season by double digits save a nine-point decision over D5 champion Sheboygan Lutheran, did fight back, cutting it to 9-8 with 1:14 left in the quarter, but guard Breon Jordan hit a three to help make it 12-9 Dominican at the period's end.
Wilson was just getting warmed up, however, as he scored the first 12 points of the second quarter for the Knights, including a three-point play and three more three-pointers. His last trey in the run came at the 4:58 mark of the first half and made it 24-12 Dominican.
"I just felt good out there," said Wilson. "The coaches say if you step into a shot, it'll be a good one and it was going in a lot today (laughs)."
Cuba City (27-1) made one last push as Cory Vaassen (10 points) hit a drive and Einar Frimodt knocked down a three-pointer to make it 29-22 with 1:51 left in the half.
But with the guards stealing the spotlight for Dominican, it was time for 6-9 freshman center Diamond Stone to make his presence felt on the offensive end. He converted a three-point play after a thunderous dunk with 1:02 left and then got a pivotal tip-in just at the buzzer to make it 34-24 at the half.
"It was something," said Petitgoue. "They had 11 turnovers in the first half, we had taken 10 more shots than they did and still we were down by 10."
"They just have such talent out there, with Taylor and Wilson, and my goodness, you'll be talking to Diamond Stone here for the next three years."
Stone finished with a tournament record 20 blocked shots.
But in the second half, it was Stone's elders, the guards, who finished off Cuba City. Wilson got an offensive rebound three-pointer to start things in the third quarter. The Cubans countered with a trey by Jason Derby, but then the Knights scored 17 of the next 18 points to blow the game open at 54-28 with 1:26 left in the third.
Wilson had six points in the run and Taylor seven and the big guy Stone even contributed four, including another dunk.
All told, the Knights hit 10 of 19 shots in the third quarter and committed only one turnover.
It was then time to celebrate.
"Getting that lead was huge," said Wollersheim. "I think that really took the wind out of their sails, because if they stay even with us, they would have gained confidence. I know we turned it over a lot in that first half, but we still had a lead. I thought our defense was just stifling today."
"That was a great team we played out there today. They average 72 points (a game) and that we held them to 43 was just amazing."
And then Wollersheim turned one way and then another at the press table to talk about his dynamic guard combination of Taylor and Wilson.
"It's just fitting that the two guys who have led us these last three years would have such big games," he said. "They've all but carried the team, and to have them next to me like this in this situation is a blessing."
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