Wildcats clinch CWC-North with perfect record

Gresham prepares for regional tourney

Contributed photo The Gresham boys basketball team is Central Wisconsin Conference-North champions with a perfect 12-0 conference record. The team includes, from left, top row, Nathaniel Juga, Waylon Welch, Justice Paiser, Drew Haffner, Todd Otradovec, Thomas Seidler and Jake Hoffman; bottom row, Bryce Bohl, Lyle Welch and Raven Bennett.

The Gresham boys clinched the Central Wisconsin Conference-North title after a victory over Northland Pines on Feb. 16. On Thursday, the Wildcats capped the dominating season with a perfect conference record after defeating Wisconsin Valley Lutheran 57-49.

Gresham finishes 12-0 in the conference (16-6 overall). The team had its eyes set on taking the title since the start of the season, but going undefeated in the conference was icing on the cake.

“We just wanted that title,” head coach Jeff Zobeck said. “The fact that they were able to round it out by going undefeated was just awesome.”

The Wildcats had to battle in the final game to achieve the goal. Down by three at the half, Gresham outshot WVL 30-19 in the final 18 minutes.

“I challenged them at halftime and told them that it was ultimately up to them if they wanted to really play hard and win it all,” Zobeck said. “The game was kind of meaningless otherwise, because we already had the title, but the boys turned it around in the second half. I give them a lot of credit for that. They wanted to take it all, not just settle after achieving the original goal.”

Gresham secured a 2-0 sweep over WVL this year with a 53-52 win earlier in the season. The teams meet up again in the first regional round of the WIAA Division 5 tournament on Tuesday. Gresham, which is the No. 7 seed in the tourney, hosts No. 10 WVL.

“A lot of people say it’s tough to beat a team three times, and I do think that’s the case here too,” Zobeck said. “They gave us our two toughest games against a single team this year.

“It could be a disadvantage that we’ve beaten them twice, but I think the fact that we struggled both times will help us in that regard, because we know it’s not going to be an easy win. We know that we can play better, and we made some changes to our strategy and have some tricks up our sleeves that we haven’t tried yet against them. So hopefully all of that together will make for a good outcome in that game.”

The Wildcats also have an advantage with three scorers averaging double figures this season and two consistent freshmen.

Seniors Todd Otradovec and Drew Haffner lead the team with 17.5 and 17 points per game, respectively. The two are also No. 2 and No. 4 in scoring in the conference.

Justice Paiser adds 12.7 points on average per game and freshmen Jake Hoffman (8.6) and Raven Bennett (8.3) round out a versitile starting lineup.

“We were young early on this season with two freshmen starting, and after a couple blowout games we realized we needed to play differently and alter what we had been doing in previous years to fit this team better,” Zobeck said. “As soon as we made those adjustments these guys just clicked and you can see the results we’ve had.

“The perfect example of that is Justy (Paiser). He started as a perimeter shooter and that’s not his best position. We changed him over the season, and out of the gate last night he was making shots around the basket and making some great post moves when we were struggling and he really held us in that game, and Todd (Otradovec) and Drew (Haffner) are just our leaders. They could score a lot more but they’re very unselfish and create points for teammates. They’re fully into the team aspect.”

Haffner leads the conference in assists per game with 6.3 and Otradovec (5.3) comes in at No. 3.