State Tournament Preview: Denmark vs. Waupun

Denmark's Zach Gezella (24) defends during the sectional final against Freedom while teammate Pat Suemnick comes over to help on March 9 at Appleton North High School. Photo by Denis Lotto


The Denmark News

DENMARK – The town of Denmark turned out at Appleton North on Saturday to try to help make sure the singular season its high school basketball team had put together would not end just quite yet.

These opportunities, after all, don’t come along all that often, and in the case of Denmark, not in 34 years to be exact.

It was 1985 when the Vikings last reached the state tournament. Bill Miller, Denmark’s current athletic director, was a point guard on the team that beat Prairie du Chien, 63-59, to capture the Class B state championship.

On Saturday, Miller was among those on hand to watch Denmark hold off Freedom, 46-41, to win the sectional championship and get those buses fired up and pointed toward the Kohl Center in Madison. The backup point guard for Denmark on Saturday? One Brennen Miller, son of Bill.

“It was cool that his son is on this team and getting a chance to go back to state,” said Denmark coach Cody Stelmach, whose third-seeded Vikings take on second-seed Waupun in the second Division 3 semifinal on Thursday afternoon around 3:30. “What a great moment to see Bill, the AD, be able to pass off that special final (sectional plaque) to his son on Saturday. Hopefully, that will give us a chance for some more Miller luck down there in Madison.”

Folks around the state might be thinking luck of some kind – Miller, or otherwise – would need to play some part in a Denmark win over the heavily favored 25-1 Warriors of Waupun. The Vikings are no slouches, winners of 21 of 23 and 22 of 26 overall, but those numbers Waupun put up this year are eye-popping and daunting.

The Warriors have lost only to Martin Luther, Division 3’s top-ranked team and the No. 1 seed on Thursday. And that loss, 79-64, on Dec. 18, came when Waupun was short-handed.

You want scary numbers? Take your pick. D3’s second-ranked Waupun is scoring 72 a game, allowing 44. The Warriors’ smallest margin of victory during their 14-0 East Central Conference cruise was 20. They won the sectional semifinal by a cool 43 points, though had to fight for a 64-58 win over Brookfield Academy on Saturday to reach Madison.

As a team they shoot well better than 50 percent from the field and better than 40 percent from deep. They are led by Northern Kentucky signee 6-6 Marcus Domask, a four-year senior starter who is making nearly 62 percent from the field and 48 percent from three and is averaging a double-double (27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists).

Alongside Domask are 6-4 senior Quintin Winterfeldt (11.6, 57 percent FG); 6-0 senior Trevor VandeZande (10 points, 3.5 assists, 52 percent FG); 6-5 senior Reece Homan, who has returned from injury to average nearly 13 a game over the final half of the season while shooting at 74 percent from the field; and Gabe Keach, a 6-0 junior guard who also missed the early part of the season but is shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc.

Domask, VandeZande and Homan were all on the 2015-16 Warrior state championship team, so they are familiar with the big stage and have played on the Kohl Center floor.

“I realize we’re the favorite,” said Waupun coach Dan Domask. “That’s just the reality of it. But the tournament can be glorious or the most cruel thing, so you take nothing for granted. You put so much passion into something so it can be nerve wracking when something so precious can be taken away from you in 36 minutes.

“Denmark wouldn’t be here if they weren’t a good team. Their interior is their bread and butter but if you sag too much, they can hurt you. They’re a team that’s probably not going to beat you with finesse and pizazz. They’re a really hard-working, disciplined team that’s going to work hard from the tip to the final buzzer.”

Ride That Momentum

On a conference call on Sunday evening, Stelmach said his team will embrace the underdog role, but he’s not ceding anything, and why should he? Denmark shared the crown with two regional champions in Wrightstown and Freedom. They are 22-4, winners of five straight, 14 of 15 and 21 of 23 since opening the season 1-2. They start five seniors and boast two North Eastern Conference First-Teamers in 6-5 Zane Short (20 ppg; 7 rebounds; 3.5 assists; 58 percent FG) and 6-8 Pat Suemnick (18 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 62 percent FG) as well as a pair of sharp-shooting guards in Brady Jens (38 percent from 3, 9.5 ppg) and Zach Gezella (38.5 percent from three, 6.9 ppg). Jack Satori, a defensive stopper, can also pop up and provide points (three three-pointers in the sectionals) and is a great assists man at 2.5 a game.

Miller and 6-8 freshman Donovan Short provide Denmark’s only depth. Short came off the bench to grab six boards and play solid defense against Freedom; Miller finished with five points.

Denmark’s defense will have to continue to be as stout as it has been during its 4-0 run through the postseason during which the Vikings have given up just 46 a game and 34.5 percent shooting, including 23 percent from deep. Waupun will obviously provide Denmark’s sternest challenge of the season, but Stelmach is counting on his team’s cohesion and experience to keep them in it, hopefully with a chance at the end.

“These guys have a lot of experience playing together and we look at ourselves as a very complete team on both the offensive and defensive end,” he said. “We’re happy for the opportunity. The town is still pumped up from (Saturday) and we’re going to use that momentum this entire week. We are telling these kids to embrace the moment, to enjoy the ride, to make history and to go play for that gold ball at state.”

The venue will be magical, the stage will be big and the stakes even bigger. But Stelmach hopes he can make that all work to his team’s advantage.

“We hope we’ll just be able to go there and play loose and have fun,” he said. “At the Kohl Center, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a completely different environment than people are used to playing in. That’s what’s so great about this time of year. In March, anything can happen, and I like our chances.

“We’re coming into Madison as hot as anyone.”