With last year’s senior-laden roster gone, the Dons are searching for a new identity
By Paul Lecker
MARSHFIELD — The Marshfield Columbus Catholic boys basketball team is one-third of the way through its 2014-15 regular-season schedule, and it is still working out the kinks.
The Dons have won a one-point game, lost tight games at the Cranberry Classic and against Neillsville on Tuesday, lost by 26 at Auburndale, and then turned around and beat Gilman by 37 two days later.
The Dons tied for the Cloverbelt East title and reached the WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinals last season with a senior-laden roster. This season, Columbus (3-4, 2-1 Cloverbelt East) is relying on an entirely new starting lineup and a number of sophomores and juniors that have not played many varsity minutes prior to this year.
Seven games into the season the Dons are trying to find their identity.
Following the loss to Auburndale, where the Dons shot 36 percent and committed 15 turnovers, the team did some soul searching. Columbus responded with a dominant performance against Gilman, using a full-court press to force 16 turnovers in the opening 7 minutes and open up a big lead early.
“I wasn’t so much worried about a playing hangover as I was an attitude hangover,” Columbus Catholic coach Joe Konieczny said following the Gilman game on Dec. 11. “At practice we had some tough conversations with them about what type of people we are, whether we’re disciplined and unselfish. I think we had some good conversations and some growth from it. We saw some kids on the bench that were into it, emotional, enthusiastic and supportive, and good teammates.”
The message is simple from Konieczny.
“If these guys are good teammates and supportive, we can be good,” Konieczny said. “If we’re not disciplined and not 100 percent unselfish, then we’re not going to be very good.”
Junior Evan Nikolai and sophomore Hunter Schultz have been the top offensive players thus far this season for the Dons. Senior Christian Payant, junior Brett Loveland, and sophomore Tyler Fuerlinger fill out the starting lineup with senior Ben Behling and junior Matthias Gouin the first off the bench.
Konieczny likes to use his defense to force the tempo and get easy layups or open 3-point shots. The style has been a staple for the Dons during the past few seasons as they have won three of the past five Cloverbelt East titles. However, Columbus has not been able to consistently implement that style of play to its advantage.
“We’re fast, and we have kids that can handle the ball and play fast,” Konieczny said. “We just need to do it disciplined. I think sometimes when we’re teaching kids to play fast, that turns into being undisciplined on defense and taking too quick of a shot on offense. If we can learn to play quick and disciplined, I think we can be pretty good.”
Columbus hosts Colby on Friday and Granton on Tuesday in a pair of Cloverbelt East matchups as it looks to recover after suffering its first conference loss of the season this past Tuesday at Neillsville, 54-51.