New Glarus is hopping this week with the excitement of the high school’s first WIAA state boys basketball tournament trip since 1932.
The seeds for the Glarner Knights’ history-making run were planted last season — in the form of a crushing defeat.
It was a little more than a year ago when New Glarus took an undefeated record into a WIAA sectional semifinal against Pardeeville. The Glarner Knights led for most of the game, but Pardeeville rode the strength of a 41-point second half to a 74-68 victory that ended New Glarus’ season.
The leader of that team was then-junior Jaden Kreklow, a 5-foot-10 point guard. He was held to 14 points against Pardeeville, more than six points below his season average.
That loss, more than anything, motivated Kreklow and his teammates to make sure this year would be different.
“Last year we came in a little hesitant, not necessarily thinking it would be a free path, but thinking it would be a little easier,” said Kreklow, who’s averaging 23.5 points per game this season, with more than 100 assists and 75 steals.
“So, I think coming in this year, learning from that, everyone was more willing to hustle, and put the extra work in. We were all even more dedicated this year.”
Even though the Glarner Knights lost two games during the regular season, to Darlington and Mineral Point, they stood tall during the tournament — avenging the Mineral Point loss in a regional final before beating Fennimore and Belleville to take a 24-2 record to Madison.
New Glarus (24-2), ranked fifth in the state, drew the No. 4 seeding in a loaded Division 4 field and will take on defending champion Manitowoc Roncalli (26-0, ranked No. 1) at 6:35 p.m. Thursday in a state semifinal at the Kohl Center.
The winner will meet either second-ranked Oshkosh Lourdes (25-1) or sixth-ranked Osseo-Fairchild (24-2) in the state final at about 12:45 p.m. Saturday.
Kreklow is a four-year varsity letterwinner, and a star that New Glarus head coach Travis Sysko called “the best basketball player” he has ever coached in his 17 years with the Glarner Knights.
And this year, more than before, Kreklow took on more of a vocal leadership role this season.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors, but still a few underclassmen, so I’ve just tried to show guys where they are supposed to be and how things are done both in practice and in games,” Kreklow said.
Sysko recalled a time this season where Kreklow was essentially another coach on the bench during a game that he missed due to injury. “He talked more than the rest of the coaching staff,” Sysko said.
Sysko also felt that last season’s Pardeeville loss pushed the Glarner Knights to a new level of dedication on both ends of the floor.
“Last year was motivation for these guys coming back. These guys really bought into our defense this year, and it has now become a big part of what we are doing,” Sysko said after the sectional final victory over Belleville.
In addition to the talent and added motivation, chemistry has been a huge part of New Glarus’ success this season, as the players genuinely enjoy being around one another and bring same mentality onto the floor.
“These guys are a close group. They get along well, they have each other’s backs, and they’re competitive as all-get-out,” Sysko said. “They don’t give up, they hate losing, and part of their M.O. has been some incredible comebacks.”
After four years together, Kreklow and Sysko often are on the same page. And their opinions on the reason for the team’s success are identical.
“I think what’s most special is our resilience. We’ve had multiple games where we have been down late that we won. We just don’t give up until the buzzer ends. That’s major,” Kreklow said.
The Glarner Knights’ on-court success speaks for itself. But Kreklow knows it takes more than just talent to hoist the gold ball at the Kohl Center. It takes something on the inside.
“Our hearts,” Kreklow said. “We all want it, and if we come out and play our game, I think we have the chance to beat anyone out there.”
Sysko’s Glarner Knights will have a major test Thursday night in front of thousands of fans at the Kohl Center. Win or lose, the coach feels good about the accomplishments of his team and this loaded senior class.
“They’re a special group,” Sysko said, “and they’re leaving a pretty great legacy.”