|Ben Bobinski moved into a starting role this season as St. Norbert has continued to reload every offseason.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
By Josh Smith
Only five players can take the court at one time. But when it comes to the St. Norbert men’s basketball team’s Midwest Conference winning streak, a lot of people have contributed to program’s success.
The Green Knights have racked up 53 consecutive wins in conference games, or 59 consecutive wins against MWC opponents (including MWC tournament games) – a streak that began at the end of the 2012-13 season. Now, St. Norbert is rapidly approaching what is believed to be the longest conference winning streak by a current NCAA Division III member.
“One thing we really take note of is that it’s been a lot of teams that have built our program to where it is today,” SNC junior Ben Bobinski said. “A lot of players and a lot of people have been a part of it, which we all think is pretty cool. We just want to keep it going for everyone that’s been a part of it. We want to keep building on it every day and keep winning as much as we can, obviously.
“We all know it’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of it, and it doesn’t just come around every day.”
The known record of 61 straight conference wins was set by Wheaton (Ill.) when the Thunder won 56 straight games in the College Conference of Illinois from 1955 to 1959 before being politely asked to leave the conference. Then the Thunder claimed its first five games upon rejoining the then-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin in the 1967-68 season.
Previously, UW-Eau Claire had come the closest to Wheaton’s mark when the Blugolds won 49 straight Wisconsin State University Conference games in the early ‘70s.
“From a coaching standpoint, what we’re going through right now with the season is the most important thing. If we continue to play well and continue to play at a high level, I think at some point you can look back and reflect on (the winning streak). Right now, the most important thing is the season with this current team,” said head coach Gary Grzesk, whose team clinched a share of its fourth straight conference title and its sixth in the last seven years with a 72-56 win at Beloit Saturday.
“The players are all level-headed and even-keel,” he added. “They really have taken it one game at a time.”
Grzesk not only credited his starters and regular rotation players, but he also said the work his practice players offer is instrumental even though they don’t play many minutes during competition. “We’ve had a lot of contributions from a number of people over a number of years,” he said.
Rather than focusing on consecutive victories, St. Norbert takes the same approach many teams do – they set a goal to win a conference championship. The Green Knights have been able to do that, and have done so in convincing fashion.
Last year, St. Norbert became the first program to post back-to-back undefeated Midwest Conference seasons in 64 years.
“It’s hard. I don’t want our guys to take winning for granted,” said Grzesk, who has led SNC to 70 wins in the program’s last 71 league games. “There’s a lot of work and a long process that goes into it.
“If you’re fortunate to have a streak like that – one, it means you’re playing some pretty decent basketball over the course of a number of games. But, you’ve also gotten pretty fortunate where we’ve overcome some injuries and others guys have stepped up. We’ve probably won a couple of games that we probably didn’t play our best or didn’t deserve to win.”
The coach added that in order to have sustained success, it’s also important for team leaders to pass down the program’s philosophies to younger players.
Bobinski said extending the team’s winning streak is the best way to pass that tradition on.
“It’s a way to acknowledge where this program kind of started,” Bobinski said. “It’s grown a lot because of the people that put in the work before we were even here. That’s something we’re really grateful for.”
The 6-3 junior also said the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for the Green Knight’s run of success, adding that many are volunteers.
“It’s special to see that they come in here every day and work as hard as we do, if not more, to get us ready for each game. It often goes unnoticed how much work our coaches put in,” he said.
No one on the current St. Norbert roster was in college when the program’s winning streak began. Despite not having one senior on this year’s roster, St. Norbert has continued to win.
However that can be difficult since the Green Knights are the team others are looking to dethrone.
“Everybody is always giving us their best shot. It keeps us grounded where we need to be – ready to play every single day. If we don’t show up, it could be that game that we get knocked down,” Bobinski said.
“It’s a mature group, even though we’re still fairly young,” Grzesk added, noting that his players’ roles have expanded and changed throughout the year to suit their abilities.
The coach also attributed a lot of this year’s success to the team’s 10-day trip to Span in May. With a couple extra practices and a few games, he felt the overseas visit brought the team closer.
“I don’t think you can put a price tag on the educational experience and the team bonding. It was just an amazing trip, and it gave us a little bit of a jump start toward the upcoming season,” Grzesk said.
With a share of the Midwest Conference title secured, St. Norbert remains focused on winning. They are seeking their fourth straight conference tournament championship and a return to the NCAA tournament.
Any records they pick up along the way are a bonus.
“I think it would be pretty special – maybe more so after the season or later on in the summer,” Bobinski said of breaking Wheaton’s record. “I think it’s important to step back and notice what you’ve accomplished. A lot of us have come really far, we’ve worked really hard (and) all the people before have us have really put the time in.
“We’ve got that camaraderie between us that everyone understands what we need to do and what we need to accomplish.”
Central Region clippings
Wisconsin Lutheran’s Tanner Schieve hit game-winning buzzer beaters in back-to-back games. He made his first dramatic shot Jan. 30 at Dominican, giving Wisconsin Lutheran a 76-73 triumph. Then on Feb. 3, Scheive buried a half-court shot as time expired to lift the Warriors to a 73-70 win at MSOE. … Ty Sabin set Ripon school records with 11 3-pointers and 51 points, capping the day with the game-winning shot as time expired in overtime. Sabin led the Red Hawks to a 78-77 win at Cornell and earned Midwest Conference player of the week honors. … Wheaton (Ill.) junior Katie McDaniels scored her 1,000th career point during the Thunder’s 98-85 win at North Central (Ill.) Jan. 30. … The Benedictine men’s team claimed a share of the NACC conference title with an 86-62 win at Wisconsin Lutheran Feb. 6. Michael Blaszczyk scored 20 points, pulled down eight boards and doled out four assists in the victory, earning NACC player of the week recognition. … Eureka’s Emily Camden surpassed 1,000 career points and broke the school record for most career 3-pointers. She is the 16th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 points and bettered the previous school record of 195 career 3s. … Erik Crittenden led Elmhurst to a 70-62 win over Wheaton (Ill.) Feb. 6. Crittenden scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half to help the Bluejays rally, and he added 10 rebounds for a double-double. His efforts helped him earn CCIW player of the week honors. … The Grinnell women’s basketball team clinched its first Midwest Conference tournament berth since the 2003-04 season with a 67-61 win at Carroll Feb. 6. … UW-River Falls moved into a first place tie with UW-Oshkosh atop the WIAC women’s standings. The Falcons didn’t commit a turnover in the second half of its 77-67 win over visiting UW-Stevens Point. Meanwhile UW-Oshkosh fell to UW-Stout, 59-52. … Carthage’s Morgan Harris was named CCIW player of the week after she scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out six assists in a 72-65 win at Augustana Feb. 6. … NACC player of the week Holly Denfeld set an MSOE record when she poured in 40 points in a 78-72 overtime win at Edgewood Feb. 2. She was 12-for-12 at the free throw line to help break the school’s single-game scoring record, and she added 17 rebounds. … Cornell’s Maggie Hogen tied a school record with her 109th career block during a 67-50 win over Ripon Feb. 6. She finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Where they rank
Highlighted by the top two teams, five men’s basketball teams from the Central Region were ranked in this week’s Top 25.
Augustana and Benedictine both moved up one spot to Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. The Vikings received 17 first place votes while Benedictine secured five first place votes.
Elmhurst remained steady at No. 9 while St. Norbert rose three places to No. 11. North Central (Ill.) slipped five spots to No. 18, and Chicago dropped out of the Top 25.
Aurora (15) and UW-La Crosse (3) received votes in this week’s poll.
Washington U. is down one place in this week’s women’s poll, checking in at No. 10.
UW-Oshkosh fell three spots to No. 13 while WIAC rival UW-River Falls moved up three spots to No. 15. UW-Stevens Point dropped one place to No. 17 and UW-Whitewater tumbled four spots to No. 19. Wheaton (Ill.) is five spots lower, coming in at No. 25.
St. Norbert (2) received votes in this week’s women’s poll.
Do you have a story idea for the Around the Central column? Contact me about broken records, approaching milestones, breakout players or any other storylines from the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.
Around the Central Region was written by Josh Smith during the 2015-16 season. Josh covers high school and Division III athletics for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wis. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and contributes to multiple publications in addition to his duties at the Daily Union, including D3sports.com beginning in 2012. He graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in print journalism.