St. Norbert moves beyond the streak

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With players like D.J. DeValk, St. Norbert has been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Midwest Conference in recent seasons.
Photo by Steve Frommell,

When St. Norbert lost a road game to Ripon 81-55 on Jan. 18, the Green Knights found themselves in unfamiliar territory. For the first time since Feb. 9, 2013, St. Norbert lost a game in the Midwest Conference.

The incredible streak of consecutive conference victories ended at 72, and it was the only Midwest Conference loss for every player on this year’s roster.

St. Norbert head coach Gary Grzesk said the team was upset when the streak ended.

“It was disappointing,” Grzesk said. “Ripon played an excellent game, but there were some things if we wanted to compete and be successful, we could’ve done better. The feeling in locker room was disappointment. Our players are competitive and want to do well every time they go out there.”

Grzesk said the winning streak was the result of numerous factors.

“You start with the fact that we’ve had a number of good players within program over last number of years that really deserve credit for that winning streak,” Grzesk said. “It’s pretty unique that we have a great staff of volunteer assistants who put in a lot of time. We’ve overcome injuries and had enough depth if certain guys weren’t playing well, we’d hold them accountable with playing time.

Grzesk said sometimes St. Norbert was fortunate to win games, especially last season.

“We won some games we weren’t supposed to win or didn’t play well,” Grzesk said. “We’re pretty fortunate looking back at that winning streak. Last year’s run was the most unexpected because we started three juniors and two sophomores and won seven games by three points or less.”

Grzesk guided St. Norbert to the school’s first NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance in 32 years in 2015-16, and he thought a big year would be in store coming into his 11th season as the head coach.

“After last year, I really thought we had eight capable starters coming into this year,” Grzesk said. “Then over the course of the summer and fall, we lost two kids to career-ending back injuries, and one decided not to play.”

Last season, freshman Seth Taylor and sophomore guard/forward Mitch Winter both played key roles off the bench, and back injuries forced them out. Dakota Oskey appeared in 19 games as a sophomore and opted not to play this season.

“Now we’re not as experienced or quite as deep as we were last year,” Grzesk said. “We have had some younger kids filling those minutes and are doing an admiral job.”

Once the winning streak ended, Grzesk said he went back to a more experienced starting lineup.

“We went back to starting our veteran group,” Grzesk said. “We had a lull in the middle of season when we weren’t playing well. We sat our second and third leading scorers Ben Bobinski and Tim Marshall. Even though they were coming off the bench, they continued to have good attitude. Their minutes actually stayed the same but production went up.”

Bobinski and Marshall went back into the starting lineup, and Mitchell Reinthaler, who Grzesk said makes a huge difference at both ends of the floor, returned after missing nine games with a back injury.

Grzesk said the team has been playing much better, and St. Norbert is back on a four-game winning streak. The Green Knights’ latest victory came against Ripon, the team that ended the streak.

After losing by 26 in the first matchup, St. Norbert left the Kress Events Center in Green Bay with a 79-62 victory in the rematch.

Marshall finished with a career-high 19 points, and St. Norbert held Ripon’s offense to more than 20 points below its average per game.

“We took care of the ball with only had five turnovers, and made a concerted effort to try to get the ball inside,” Grzesk said. “Tim Marshall had career high and finished well around basket. Throughout the season, we haven’t had our veteran group all playing consistently well for longs stretches, that veteran group played pretty well together in this game.”

St. Norbert currently stands with a 12-1 conference record, two games ahead of Ripon at the top.

“At the beginning of the year, we start with our small attainable goals,” Grzesk said. “We clinched a spot in the conference tournament last night, and the next goal is to win conference championship and have chance to host conference tournament. Last night’s wins was an important step because Ripon would have had the tiebreaker over us.”

As the season rolls along, Grzesk said he makes sure to let his players know that each year has its own identity.

“We just try to express to our kids that each season is different,” Grzesk said. “Just because we had success last year did not guarantee anything this year. The identity of this group has been ongoing throughout the season, and we’re starting to get healthy at the right time of the year.”

Poll position

For the second week in a row, there were no new entrants into the Top 25 rankings, and eight teams from the Central region are featured in this week’s update.

From the WIAC, UW-River Falls moved up one spot from No. 5 to No. 4, and UW-Whitewater jumped three spots to No. 21. UW-Eau Claire slipped from No. 17 to the end of the rankings at No. 25.

North Park is the highest-ranked team from the CCIW at No. 20, and Augustana dropped from No. 16 to No. 22.

Washington U. went from eighth to sixth from the UAA, St. Norbert moved up to No. 10 in the MWC and Benedictine represented the NACC to No. 18.

All four ranked Central region teams remained in the most recent updated rankings.

In the WIAC, UW Oshkosh dropped a spot form 15th to 16th, and UW-Whitewater went from No. 17 to No. 19.

Washington U. went up to No. 9 from No. 11 from the UAA, and Wheaton (Ill.) moved up to one spot to No. 24 from the CCIW.

Check these out

We’ve reached February, which means conference season is heating up throughout the country. Here are some of the biggest games coming up over the next few days from the Central region.

UW Oshkosh @ #4 UW-River Falls (MBB) – Saturday, Feb. 4 – UW-River Falls keeps on winning with a 17-game streak, as the Falcons welcome UW Oshkosh to town. The Titans come in 12-8, and they have come away with big wins over good teams this year, including St. Norbert and UW-Eau Claire twice.

North Central (Ill.) @ #20 North Park (MBB) – Saturday, Feb. 4 – North Central (Ill.) went through a mid-season slump losing five of six games, but the Cardinals have won three in a row. North Central (Ill.) suffered a close loss to North Park 76-73 on Jan. 7 in the first matchup.

#20 Carnegie Mellon @ #11 Washington U. (WBB) – Friday, Feb. 3 – In this top 25 matchup, Carnegie Mellon will look for road revenge on Washington  U., who won the first game 78-72 at home on Jan. 27.

Elmhurst @ #24 Wheaton (Ill.) WBB) – Saturday, Feb. 4 – Both of these teams have had a similar stretch. Wheaton (Ill.) had a six-game winning streak before Wednesday’s loss to Carthage. On the other side, Elmhurst won eight consecutive games before a double-overtime loss to Augustana Wednesday night.

Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University where he was a two-year starter at free safety for the Generals' football team. A contributor to since 2007, Adam is now the lead columnist for the site, writing Around the Nation and other national features. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney.
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