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Hawks find their way home, with humanity and root beer in hand

March 17, 2014

Infallible? No.

Invincible? Totally not.

Completely human? Absolutely.

So when Germantown boys basketball coach Steve Showalter was found in the large convenience store/truck stop in Watertown late Saturday night after his team won a remarkable third straight state title, with a bag of chips in one hand and a root beer in the other, he was not about to make any apologies.

"Hey, this is what a cop eats," the longtime Germantown police officer said with a rare, easy laugh.

Laughs came often this late night for the coach and his team. His wife, the driver on this particular expedition, had a large, fully caffeinated cup of coffee in hand because everyone was headed back to the school for photos with the hard-earned championship trophy.

"It was 1:30 a.m. and I think it was the longest parade I'd ever seen," Showalter said. "We got up River Lane, and I looked back to the top of the hill and there were cars as far as we could see.

"All these people came out to greet us, and it was cold out, too," he said, laughing some more.

Cold outside, but with warm feelings inside as it was part hard-won doses of humanity, part cold slaps of humility and all desire at the end that earned the Warhawks this piece of state history, this rare third gold ball.

The team went into the season with impossibly high expectations with two state championships and a 56-game winning streak in tow. They would break Dominican's state record win streak and extend the mark to 69 games.

Then reality set in. A determined and talented Brookfield Central stopped the winning streak cold on a snowy Tuesday in January, then a few weeks later came a traffic stop, citations for drug possession and the subsequent suspension of four players.

Another short-handed loss occurred to eventual state Division 2 champion Wisconsin Lutheran shortly thereafter, and everyone had to look around and ask, "Where do we go from here?"

The answer was, there was nowhere but up.

"Yeah," said senior forward Jon Averkamp, a four-year letter winner who has been part of all three championships. "I think we just started going through the motions a little. I think all that happened brought us back to earth a little bit.

"And I think the incident (the suspensions) may have helped our depth (as more players) became involved. In the end, I think we came back stronger than ever."

"The kids got to believe that they were invincible," coach Showalter added, "and when they get that way, it gets a little hard to coach. Let's just say that they listen a little better now."

Even the coaches had to go through their own soul-searching. Showalter relied on his staff more than ever, especially longtime assistant Jim "Louie" Lawinger and veteran battler of the hoops wars Aaron Womack.

"Louie has been through it all and seen it all, and Aaron is sort of the voice of reason, the pat-on-the-back kind of guy," Showalter said. "Me, I can come off as sort of the bad cop, high-strung and emotional, jumping on them when needed."

Together with the rest of the 10-member staff, they looked inward, assessed what needed to be changed if these impossible goals were ever to be reached.

"As a staff, we needed to figure things out," Showalter said. "Sometimes things don't work (and you try something different)."

And they did, over and over again.

Everyone took their best shots. There was a harrowing finish at conference archrival Homestead at the end of the regular season that barely kept the Warhawks' North Shore Conference winning streak alive at 59 games and counting.

But then it seemed like a switch turned on in the WIAA playoffs. The only single digit margin in the six-game run came in the title contest with Neenah.

The strikingly easy semifinal win over King, in the most anticipated game of the state tournament last weekend in Madison, hearkened back to the powerful days of the Luke Fischer-led juggernaut of last year, where the Warhawks were rarely challenged.

Like it had been done the previous two years, Germantown's last practice before state was held at Marquette University's college-length Al McGuire Center. Unlike the last two years, when small bits of drama in those sessions tested the Warhawks readiness, there was nothing to chew on this year.

"I can't remember exactly what it was (last year)," said Fischer, now a student/athlete at Marquette, who stopped by at this session, "but I do remember lots and lots of pushups."

The clean practice told coach Showalter something.

"We were ready for King, there was no need for anything crazy," he said. "Some days you need a firecracker lit underneath you, and on other days, you're just not completely sure, but you feel better than you normally do, you feel like you're really ready, and Friday (against King) was one of them."

With that test behind them, the title game with Neenah became a physical war that had to be endured. Showalter has stated often that he hates playing really good teams on just 24 hours notice, but that is the way the state tournament works.

And now the look back begins. Two pillars who helped hold things together this year, Averkamp and fellow post Evan Wesenberg (who earned WBCA all-state honors last weekend), have been together for four years and have compiled an incomparable 106-4 record in that time.

"When Ben (Averkamp, Jon's older brother) got to 72 (career wins) I thought that would never be matched," coach Showalter said, "and then when Zak (Showalter) and Josh (Mongan) got to 92, I never thought that would be beat. But now, I'm absolutely 100 percent certain what Jon and Evan have been a part of will never be taken down.

"I don't even know if anyone's done that in (state) history."

Averkamp said it was a "collective effort, with no one defining moment."

In short, it was done in a very human, very fallible way.

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