By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – If you were to go just by the numbers, Denmark would seem to have a significant advantage in its sectional semifinal matchup on Thursday night at Chilton High School.
Denmark’s record is 20-4; its opponent, 13-10. Denmark is averaging 62 points a game and shooting it at 57 percent accuracy vs. 52 points and 38 percent shooting. Denmark is outrebounding its foes by six a game; its opponent on Thursday averages an advantage of just two.
Denmark is playing five seniors who accounted for nearly all its offensive production a year ago. The Vikings will be going up against a team, in stark contrast, that lost 87 percent of its scoring, 88 percent of its three-point baskets and 83 percent of its rebounds to graduation.
Denmark captured a co-championship in the rugged North Eastern Conference (those other co-champions, Freedom and Wrightstown, each just won regional titles and will play each other in another sectional semi). It will battle a team that finished third in its conference, two games behind the team Denmark just beat to win its regional.
Finally, the game on Thursday is a rematch. Denmark won the first contest, going away in the second half, 67-56.
So why shouldn’t this be a breeze for the Vikings?
That name across the jerseys on Thursday says V-A-L-D-E-R-S, that’s why. Valders, owner of six consecutive regional championships, upset winner at top-seeded Southern Door on Saturday, D3 runner-up from a year ago and runner-up only because Prescott hit an improbable three at the buzzer in Madison to deny them the crown.
“Our guys should have some confidence against those guys,” said Denmark head coach Cody Stelmach after his Vikings beat Sheboygan Falls, 63-57, in the regional championship on Saturday. “But Valders is a winning program. They’ve obviously got playoff experience.”
Tip-off is 7 p.m. on Thursday at Chilton High School.
It is impressive, given just what Valders lost – its five top scorers, four top rebounders, top four three-point shooters – that they are back for another run at a sectional title. They averaged 64 points a year ago; only 8 of those points returned. They averaged 30 rebounds; only five are back. They knocked down 251 threes; players accounting for 220 of those are gone.
Valders lost by 17 and 10 to Sheboygan Falls this season but carry a four-game winning streak into Thursday night’s battle. With a limited offense and little size, Valders is doing it with defense, holding its opponents to under 54 a game and limiting them to 42 percent shooting, 32 percent from three. They also average seven steals and force 12 turnovers per game.
Size was a big factor in Denmark’s season-opening win on Nov. 24. Valders’ tallest player is 6-3 and after that it goes 6-1, 6-0. Everyone else is under six feet. Denmark features 6-8 Pat Suemnick, who dominated with 29 points and 22 rebounds in that outing, and 6-5 Zane Short.
For Valders, Matt Meyers, only a 26 percent three-pointer shooter this season, dumped in 6 of 10 from beyond the arc. Overall, Valders was 10 of 30 from deep.
Trevor Leist is the only Viking averaging in double figures with 13.4 a game. Four others range from 7.0 to 8.7 so Valders features balance even if none seem much of a threat to go off in a big way. Only Reece Brown is shooting better than 30 percent from three. His 35 percent from deep and 46 percent overall lead the team among regular players.
Short leads the way for Denmark with 20.3 points per game on 58 percent accuracy, while Suemnick is right behind at 19 points on 62 percent shooting. Zach Gezella (39 percent from three) and Brady Jens (38 percent from deep) provide the outside threat that opens things up for the two bigs inside and Jack Satori provides every intangible imaginable, including being the defensive stopper. Denmark has little depth, relying on sophomore Brennen Miller and freshman Donovan Short almost exclusively off the bench. It has worked so far. Denmark has won 19 of its last 21 games, losing only to Wrightstown twice by a combined seven points – once in overtime.
“We got a share of the conference; we’ve got the regionals and now we want to make it down to Madison,” Suemnick said after the win over Sheboygan Falls. “That’s the ultimate goal. We’re feeling pretty confident.”