"This has been a fun season."
The thought that Germantown boys basketball team senior forward Jon Averkamp conveyed following the Warhawks' WIAA sectional final victory over Kimberly Saturday afternoon could be thought of as an odd one given all that the team has been through this winter.
The long, tangled odyssey for the two-time WIAA state champions included the weight of expectation, two rare losses that broke a state record 69-game winning streak and the drug-related suspensions of four players, including two starters and a key reserve.
Those were decidedly not fun moments.
But here the Warhawks are back aiming at making history with the possibility of a third straight state title with all the fun that achievement would entail.
Germantown (24-2) earned a WIAA State Division 1 semifinal berth at 6:35 p.m. next Friday at the Kohl Center in Madison against Milwaukee King (24-2) with a steady 66-51 sectional final victory over a game Kimberly squad this afternoon in Ashwaubenon.
The team sloughed off all the weight that had been put on its back and just played ball, said coach Steve Showalter, who spoke like a proud father after the win.
"It has been a long, hard, strange year," he said "The winning streak weighed heavily on us. It got to the point where we were playing not to lose and when you do that then the game isn't any fun at all.
"Basketball is back to being fun for us again."
Senior forward Evan Wesenberg, who along with Jake Showalter and Averkamp, has been part of all three of these recent state trips, echoed his coach's sense of relief.
"We're happy we got to this point," he said. "There have been a lot of distractions, but we've come together as a team, that's the most important part.
He's especially grateful for this opportunity, seeing as it is his last chance.
"No, this never gets old," Wesenberg said. "They're all new experiences, especially now, now that we're seniors. That's the most exciting part."
Point guard Lamonte' Bearden, one of the four who were suspended earlier this season, agreed. He said it took some doing for him and the others involved in the incident to get back into good graces with the rest of the team, but it had to be done if the team was going to succeed.
"We worked to get back there," he said, "but it helped us grow as a family (and a team). This has been the biggest family that I've ever been a part of.
"Now we're going to go up there (to state) and have fun."
It took awhile for the fun to get really started on Saturday against the determined Kimberly team (17-8). It was still 3-0 Papermakers when Lamonte' Bearden and his half-brother Brian Bearden, who was also a starter who had been suspended, entered the game at the 5:21 point of the first quarter.
They have been coming of the bench instead of starting ever since their suspensions were completed late in the regular season.
Brian Bearden jump-started the offense with a steal and lay-up. After Kimberly expanded its lead to 6-2, the Warhawks went on a 9-0 run to take the lead. Lamonte' Bearden had two fastbreak baskets to key the run as Averkamp contributed a jumper and Jake Showalter a 3-pointer.
Germantown would never trail again though it would take time to shake the Papermakers, who though not very tall or very deep, hung around, trailing the Warhawks only 14-10 at the quarter and 29-21 at the half.
They wanted to play a slower pace, but on occasion took advantage of Germantown turnovers to cash in easy fast break points themselves.
"If a team wants to play fast, we'll play fast," said Lamonte Brearden, "but if they want to play slow, we'll make them play fast."
"We knew that they went only five, six, seven deep," added coach Showalter. " I wanted us to keep running and I wanted to run them off the court, run them until they were clutching at their shorts, but they hung in there and that's what impressed me."
Kimberly's strategy worked for a time.
The Papermakers closed the deficit to 31-26 with 6:53 left in the third on a 3-pointer by guard Austin Weyenberg (game-high 20 points), but then the Warhawks went on an 8-0 run including back-to-back 3-pointers by Dwayne Lawhorn Jr. and Jake Showalter.
That effort bumped the margin up to 39-26 and the lead would never drop below nine again. The largest advantage came at 62-42 on Jake Showalter's last 3-pointer. The benches emptied shortly thereafter.
"We have a lot of confidence right now," said Jake Showalter, who finished with 15 points. "We got on a roll and we just went from there."
Jake said this third trip to state in a row will be just as fun as when he was a sophomore two years ago.
"We have a great student section and we all love to go up there (to Madison)," he said. "We just want to go up there and have fun. It's a great feeling right now."
Averkamp, who chipped in eight points, said the work done during the suspensions has made the team deeper and stronger.
"We've become so deep, we can really use it to our advantage," he said. "People stepped up (during that time)."
But then he looked ahead instead of behind.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Averkamp said. "We've gotten to state, but we're not done yet."
Lamonte' Bearden led Germantown with 17 points while sophomore reserve point guard Juwan McCloud, who frequently works in tandem with Bearden, had 13.
While almost everyone else on the team is used to the state experience, the Menomonee Falls transfer will be making his first trip. He's excited and like everyone else, ready to make his mark.
"It's a huge honor to be a part of this," McCloud said, "especially playing with the talent that we have. ...Our team chemistry is very high right now. We did a lot of team things (in the last month) to bring us together.
"Now the adrenalin will be really flowing."
And the fun will begin in earnest.
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