St. Paul’s Lutheran boys basketball team headed to nationals
“Normally, this is time to wind down for us,” said Scott Gestrich, the Flames’ seventh- and eighth-grade boys basketball “A” team coach.
The Flames plowed through 23 games in five months, and the season’s finale was supposed to be an exhibition game at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center last Saturday.
On Friday, March 9, however, St. Paul’s announced that the boys team was awarded a berth in the Lutheran Basketball Association of America’s national tournament in Valparaiso, Ind.
“We’ve practiced for five months,” said Gestrich, who has been coaching St. Paul’s “A” team since 1999. “All of a sudden, we’ve got a couple more weeks (of practice). I thought it could be difficult.’’
The invitation to the national tournament put a spark back in the Flames.
“Practices have been gritty,” Gestrich said. “The kids practice harder, and they are more active now than the whole season.’’
St. Paul’s opens the 32-team double-elimination tournament at 10:20 a.m. Friday against Faith Lutheran of Las Vegas. The championship game is at 3:10 p.m. Sunday.
St. Paul’s team includes eighth-graders Zach Gestrich, Trajan Perleberg, Sawyer Hrycay and William Drake, and seventh-graders Cole Gillitzer, Caleb White, Isaac and Noah Phillips and Jacob Gestrich. Scott White is the assistant coach.
Scott Gestrich thinks the players realize they are doing something that no other St. Paul’s basketball team has done.
“The season is starting over, and now it’s a special opportunity to do something that they never got to do and play a team from Las Vegas.” Gestrich said.
After posting a winning season last year that included winning two tournaments and the Badgerland Lutheran Conference championship, St. Paul’s applied for the national tournament but was passed over. The school repeated the process this season.
“We thought we made a pretty good case for the school (last year),” Gestrich said of the school’s first-ever bid for a nationals berth. “This year, we came back with a super solid season. Fortunately for us, between last year and this year, we had enough to earn consideration.’’
St. Paul’s won the Eagle Invitational in Lombard, Ill., was runner-up in its own tournament in February, won two out of three games at the Lutheran State Tournament and was runner-up in the Badgerland Lutheran Athletic Conference.
Going into the nationals, Gestrich said he wants his team to concentrate on making its own identity.
“This year, we are trying to make our memories and not worry or think about last year’s team,” Gestrich said. “We want to be ourselves and play the game we can play.’’
Gestrich, a Clinton High graduate, uses a system that gradually builds through the eighth grade.
“We try to incorporate offensive and defensive philosophy when they play together at the (Janesville) YMCA,” Gestrich said. “We try to get them going piece by piece and expand on fundamentals, refresh it and add to it.’’
Like his players, Gestrich is taking the national tournament as a special opportunity.
“It’s a pretty rewarding thing,” Gestrich said. “To volunteer and coach and do it for such a long time, and then something special happens.”