ONALASKA, Wis. (WXOW) - After a successful season that was cut short last year, the school is buzzing with excitement as Luther boys basketball is preparing for their first state tournament appearance.
Head Coach of the Luther Knights Brad Schaper said last year was an amazing year for their team and they were blessed with the way it all played out but it wasn't without challenges.
"Last year at the end of the year we made it all the way to the sectional semifinals," said Coach Schaper. "We played Aquinas Wednesday night in the sectional semis and that game was actually early because the Aquinas girls were at state and they played Thursday so they upped our game. Little did we know that would be the last game in front of fans pretty much for the whole state."
They won the game against Aquinas and on Thursday they got together to scout the other teams playing as messages began coming across their phones saying their seasons may be done. They found out shortly after that the girls were being sent home from state and everything was called off.
"Trying to talk to them and telling them their season was over, that was a tough deal, but we are in the business of preparing Christian young men and we felt that adversity is a big deal and they overcame adversity all season long so now this wouldn't be any difference at all," said Coach Schaper.
And overcome adversity they have. The team is 19-1 and defeated Blair-Taylor 46-44 to reach the state tournament.
"I've been asked if last season was motivation for this season and I've said it hasn't been. What this season has been, is a cleansing and an opportunity from last year," said Coach Schaper.
Jon Engelbrecht, the principal at Luther High School said it has truly been a year-long process. He's excited about the opportunity for the boys.
"The fact that it was cut short due to COVID, just a game short of being able to go to state, so to have it here in the La Crosse Center a year later is just a blessing beyond belief for us," said Engelbrecht.
Coach Schaper explained that last season taught them lessons and to the boys, this season is about completion and finishing what they started.
"All of our boys that were on the team last year, that are on it this year, now see full circle. They see completion of a mission they started not just this year but many years ago and we have been talking about playing for each other and living in the moment and making sure that we value every second," said Coach Schaper.
The school, students, and community have been supportive through their journey. Coach Schaper said it has been important in their success.
"The playoff run from regionals to sectionals and I'm assuming on Friday, has been amazing for our boys. This has been a school thing. It has been so great for our school community, for Luther High School, for our entire support staff and association, everyone together. The amount of people that have been behind us has been simply amazing and we're certainly grateful for all the support we have gotten," said Coach Schaper.
He explained that it truly has been a school wide effort to keep the boys healthy so they can continue to play. The atmosphere he said has been incredible.
"It's been a crazy good. Coach Kowal from Onalaska High School has helped me a lot. Huge shout out to Onalaska and what they have done, making their appearance. He's told me about what this week would be like and it has been a crazy good. It's been a lot of fun. There has been a lot of electricity in our hallways, the students are excited, we're selling tons of tickets, t-shirts and having a great time," said Coach Schaper.
Engelbrecht said they sold out of their 500 tickets within four or five hours of them being available which just shows you how excited people are for the boys and to be able to support the team.
"The energy so far this week has just been kind of bubbling over," said Engelbrecht. "We've got a pep rally scheduled for Thursday and hopefully some good plans for what we can do to welcome out boys there when we arrive on Friday."
Both Engelbrecht and Coach Shaper said they are most excited for the boys.
"We've got six seniors that were on the team last year that got cut short, so not knowing if you'd get back, this is a great opportunity for them," said Engelbrecht.
"I am most excited about the opportunity for those boys," said Coach Schaper. "This is something they will always remember."
The Luther boys will play Friday morning against The Prairie School at 9:05. You can watch the game on WXOW-TV or on our website.