Germantown boys, Nicolet girls have strong foundations for success
Both teams unbeaten, atop state polls
The former reached the mountaintop of a state title last year and the latter's aspirations for a similar feat this winter took a major hit with an injury to a top-flight player just this last week.
But what Nicolet girls basketball coach Corey Wolf and Germantown boys basketball coach Steve Showalter have achieved in the last half-decade transcends the fortune of good health or having an abundance of talent, though both will admit having those two factors on your side always helps.
The Knights girls are 12-0 overall and are ranked No.1 in the state AP poll despite losing their entire front line to graduation after their WIAA state title of 2011. The Warhawks boys are 13-0 despite the loss of center Luke Fischer to a hand injury this past week. They started the week atop the Wissports Division 1 state poll after returning nearly everyone from a team that went 24-2 last season.
Nicolet has won or shared the last three North Shore Conference girls titles while Germantown has won or shared four of the last five NSC boys crowns.
Seniors lead the way
And both pointed to senior leadership in maintaining the consistency.
"I look at Tory Bauman (two-time girls state golf champion and the only senior on the 2008-09 NSC co-championship basketball team)," Wolf said. "I'm always big on seniors and the leadership they pass down and that really changed when Tory agreed to come out.
"She brought a mental toughness to everything. She showed the others how hard she worked. She taught those other kids (most of whom were just sophomores at the time) how to handle tough situations, and more importantly, she led by example also as a student and a member of the community.
"The kids really respected her for that."
As a result, a program that went without a freshmen team for two years about five seasons ago because of a lack of players, now has overflowing numbers on all three levels.
"Back then, our open gyms would be three-on-three or four-on-four if we were lucky," said Wolf, "but as of last summer we had a minimum of 35 kids each session, and we would have to use two courts. Kids now want to be a part of it all."
Showalter pointed to the 2007-08 season and cousins Andy and Zach Neumann. The Warhawks were just coming off their first league title in more than 30 years and a berth in the WIAA sectional finals where they lost to Milwaukee Vincent.
There was talent coming back in center Ben Averkamp and point guard Rick Bowers but other spots were up for grabs.
Enter the Neumanns.
Leading by example
"We've had some luck drawing in some of the greatest kids who've ever walked through the program," Showalter said, "and as a result of our success, we've been able to get better and better athletes out each year.
"Zach and Andy weren't the most talented players out there, but they were building blocks for us in the new millennium. When they started in as freshmen, the program wasn't very good but by the time they had finished, the program had completely flipped (to being a successful one).
"They were solid kids in the class and the community and they always came to work hard (in practice) everyday. They weren't 'rah-rah' type of guys but they really led by example."
And, as it turned out, it was Andy Neumann who tipped out to center court, the rebound of a missed free throw in the WIAA sectional final in March 2008 that clinched the Warhawks first-ever WIAA state tournament berth.
The circle of success goes even farther back for Wolf and Showalter and it's one that continues to hold fast for Germantown.
"I remember the first time I saw Zak and Jake (Showalter, Steve's sons and stars on the current team) was on their bench about 10 years ago when Germantown was playing Nicolet and Tanner (Wolf's younger brother)," Wolf said. "They couldn't have been more than seven or eight at the time and they just couldn't keep their eyes off of Tanner (a diminutive assassin of a point guard for coach Paul Hepp's championship teams of the time), and I remember Tanner going up and talking to them during warm-ups.
"They probably felt comfortable with him because they were about the same size (laughs)."
Steve Showalter remembers those moments well and how they've rubbed off on his sons.
"They made sure to tell me during that time that he was their favorite player," chuckled Steve. "He (Tanner) would come by and shake their hands and they would get such a kick out of that. And he didn't turn out to be too bad of an example to have as a player either."
Now both coaches continue down this road of success. Wolf hoping that the bedrock of success anchored by the state title continues to bring in eager and talented individuals willing to keep things going and Showalter, looking to the near-term, hoping that the depth and power he has built into the program over the last decade can help the team overcome this latest setback.
Win or lose, the two programs bear further watching.
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