Pacelli boys basketball putting the pieces together
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With one starter back from a year ago and a new head coach, the Pacelli Catholic High School boys basketball team has been a work in progress so far this season.
John Schurk was named the Cardinals’ head coach in October and has navigated the team through a tough nonconference schedule, after Pacelli won the Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC) South Title last season.
Pacelli (2-6, 2-1) had a chance to take sole possession of the lead atop the CWC against Division 5 sixth-ranked Almond-Bancroft (7-0, 4-0) at the Pacelli Student Activities Center Friday, Dec. 21, but the Cardinals fell 83-43, and will look to bounce back at the Sentry Classic this week.
“I came in late, and trying to change a lot of the system and bring everything to my system was obviously a challenge,” said Schurk. “Any time you come in the first year, you really have to try to change that culture, how you want to build it for years to come, and the players have been pretty open to it. It’s just a change for them.
“Once they get that change down, I think we’ll start to click more, it’s just a learning process right now,” he said. “We’ve got talent on the team; we just have to put it all together.”
Last season, Pacelli went 10-2 in conference to win the CWC South, before it lost to eventual WIAA Division 4 State Runner-up Marathon 72-51 in the Regional Finals to finish 17-7 overall.
The Cardinals lost four starters from a year ago in First Team All-CWC South guard Cam Cloud, a pair of Second Team All-CWC South forwards in Garret Parks and AJ Firminhac, and Honorable Mention All-CWC South guard Andrew Blanker, while Schurk was hired to replace Matt Resch as the team’s head coach Oct. 5.
Senior 6-4 guard/forward Jonah Peplinski returned as a starter this season for the Pacelli, and has been joined in the lineup by 6-0 senior guard Nate Helms and 6-5 senior center Mitch Miller.
“Jonah was a good part of that group last year, they were senior heavy last year and they played really well together,” said Schurk. “He brings a lot of energy for us, and he’s got a lot of heart and desire and play well.
“Helms is a very good shooter, he can create for himself, and defensively he’s a guy that we can count on to work his butt off and give everything to try to slow down their best player,” he said. “Mitch is a big force for us down low, the last couple of games he’s struggled offensively, but we need to find a way to get him more involved early to get him going, like we did against Pittsville when he had 25 for us.”
Sophomore 6-3 forward Wes Peplinski and 5-7 junior point guard Mason Schlagenhaft have also moved into the starting lineup for Pacelli, with 6-4 junior forward Elliot Parks, 6-5 junior forward Nick Hartman, 5-6 senior guard Trevor Frane, 5-11 senior guard Xander Schmitz, and 5-9 junior guard Tim Tippel contributing off the bench.
“Wes has a lot of potential, and he’s just going to keep improving,” said Schurk. “Mason brings a lot of energy, and he’s a very quick player.
“It’s a good group, and they’re great kids,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better group, just individually as people, for the first year starting.”
The Cardinals opened this season with a tough nonconference schedule that included losses to Division 2 Wausau East (86-43), defending WIAA Division 1 State Champion Oshkosh North (75-37), Division 2 Marinette (89-58), Wittenberg-Birnamwood (53-39) and Division 5 second-ranked Marshfield Columbus Catholic (74-53).
Meanwhile, Pacelli won its first two conference games over Tri-County (79-43) Dec. 6 and Pittsville (59-46) Dec. 11 to set up an early-season showdown with Almond-Bancroft Friday night, after the Cardinals went 2-0 against Almond last year to win the Conference Title over the Eagles (9-3).
The game Friday night was tight in the opening minutes, as Almond held an 11-5 lead just over four minutes in, when the Eagles went on a 17-0 run to open up a 28-5 advantage with 9:51 remaining in the first half.
Pacelli used a 7-2 spurt to close within 30-12 with 7:58 to go, but Almond went into halftime with a 48-22 lead, on the way to an 83-43 win.
Helms finished with 17 points and five rebounds, Jonah Peplinski had nine points and six rebounds, and Miller added six points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
“We have some good things we’re building, some bad things that we need to still correct, and tonight was kind of a little bit of a shocker,” said Schurk. “We thought we were ready for this, and I guess we have a few things to touch on before we see them again.
“But I’m going to give all of the credit to Almond; they were incredible,” he said. “We knew they could shoot, but that was unbelievable.”
“They shot lights out,” said Helms. “We didn’t rebound very good, so we’ve got to work on that.
“But I think the hustle was there,” he said. “We’ve just got to put a few pieces together in practice and come out strong next week.”
The Cardinals will be back in action at the 47th Sentry Classic at Bennett Court at Quandt Fieldhouse, where they are set to play Stratford (6-0) at 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 27, and then take on Amherst (0-7) at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29.
Pacelli will return to conference play at Wild Rose Jan. 8, as they look to remain in the hunt after they went 10-2 in the CWC South last season to win the Conference Title over Almond-Bancroft (9-3), Wild Rose (8-4), Port Edwards (6-6) and Rosholt (6-6).
“Right now, Almond’s definitely the team to beat,” said Schurk. “There are other competitive teams, and it’s not going to be easy.
“We need to make sure that we find a way to clean some of this up, and to be honest with you, we’re looking forward to seeing Almond again,” he said. “This was uncharacteristic of us, some of the things that we did wrong tonight, and in the other sense, I don’t know if you can shoot that good, that often in a game like they did.”
“We still have conference in mind,” said Jonah Peplinski. “We’ve got Almond-Bancroft again, so get a little streak going, and hopefully bring home a Conference Title.”
Schurk, who coached in the Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) program the last eight years, said that going forward he wants to see his team challenge themselves in practice to make each other better.
“We’re having fun,” said Schurk. “There are a lot of good points to come out of what we’ve already done for this season, but we’re not done.
“Our boys want to get better, and we want to give them every opportunity to get better,” he said. “And we’re just going to keep having fun, and we’ll keep improving.”