This Friday night will be the last time Roncalli’s eight seniors play in front of their home crowd. It will also be one of the most meaningful games of their final season in the red and blue. They will face the Brebeuf Braves with the Circle City Conference championship on the line. Both teams will enter into the match up with perfect 3-0 records in conference play and coming off of big back-to-back wins. A capacity, raucous crowd is expected to fill “The Woodshed,” providing the type of championship atmosphere Hoosier Hysteria is known for.
Few, if any, other teams in the state roster eight seniors. To do so is definitely a calculated risk. Will there be enough minutes and enough shots to keep everyone happy? Does the benefit of depth and experience outweigh the opportunity to develop younger players? These are the types of questions head coach Michael Wantz had to weigh in the fall. Heading into this week’s championship, the fruits of his decision are evident.
“I think that you have to be careful of keeping a senior that will not help you or play meaningful minutes. I felt like all eight of these seniors could help us win this year and that has proven true,” Wantz assessed. “This team plays for each other and is very unselfish. They are each other’s biggest fans. I, at times, get caught watching our bench while I watch film. I love to see our guys excited for their teammates’ successes.”
The camaraderie has been palpable. One reason may be that this is the last “go-round” for eight of the team’s ten members. With that, there is a singular focus and unspoken understanding that they are all in this together. Another reason may be the fact that they have been playing together for almost ten years now.
“I have been playing with some of these guys since, like, 4th grade,” explained senior captain Kellen Schreiber. “I played CYO at St. Barnabas where I was accompanied by Joe Kirkhoff, Jack Hegwood, and Matt Looney. It was always fun to play against our dreaded rival, St. Jude, with Reese McGinsie, Conner Gore, and (some years) Jake Denney. Rebel (club) ball started in 5th grade, so us seniors have been playing together since we started playing basketball.”
Schreiber leads the team in scoring (12.6 ppg) and rebounds (5.4 rpg). He is also third on the team in assists per game (2.0). None of those stats really mean much to the 6’5” forward. When asked to describe his role, he focuses on how he can energize his teammates.
“My role on the team is to lead my teammates efficiently. I love to bring energy to the gym whether I am on the floor or on the bench. I probably get more excited seeing Conner Gore or Drew Fleming hit a three than if I hit one,” Schreiber confessed. “I love passing the ball to Jack Hegwood and watching him do his thing down on the block. I also love seeing my teammates having fun on the floor, so I try to make it fun out there in any fashion I can.”
Fun is what they hope to be having Friday night as they attempt to clinch Roncalli’s first conference title. Last season was the school’s first in the newly formed Circle City Conference. Before that, Roncalli had always been an independent. This means Friday night presents an opportunity to do something that has never been done before by any Rebel basketball team.
“Playing for any type of championship is going to be exciting in itself, especially against a team like Brebeuf. The reputation they have is something really awesome,” exclaimed Schreiber. “Being in a conference is pretty sweet because if you win, you get to add on to your school’s pride and spirit.”
“It would be a great honor to be a part of the team that won the school’s first ever conference championship in the Circle City Conference,” added Joe Kirkhoff. The 5’11” senior point guard leads his squad in assists, but is not bashful about taking key shots in big moments.
“I do relish having the ball in my hands at the end of the game. I handle the ball well and am a pretty good free throw shooter. I know that our guys trust me to put the game away by hitting clutch shots.”
It very well may come down to just that. Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings show the Rebels as a slight underdog at home against a surging Brebeuf squad. The Braves have won their last four, including knocking off then #1 Tri-West two weeks ago. For their part, Wantz’s squad has been playing much better of late as well.
“The last two games (Franklin Community and Franklin Central) we have played exactly like I thought we would this year. It just took us a little longer to get there. We have played with great energy and pace on both ends of the floor. We are sharing the ball, making shots, and have balanced scoring, which makes it difficult for the other team to focus on stopping just one of our guys.”
Along with their balanced scoring attack (they have six players averaging over five points per game), Roncalli boasts an intimidating gym with a large, vocal following. The energy and excitement the fans bring and their level of support is not lost on these seniors.
“I love the fact that our fans and our students who attend our games are always loud and into it. I will miss playing at home in ‘The Woodshed’ because of the crazy environment and the support of our fans,” offered Kirkhoff.
“The family and the community aspect is what makes Roncalli a truly special place for me,” said Schreiber. “I am a huge family man. Walking out on the floor and seeing how many people from the community are watching us is pretty spectacular. I love having such a great community to surround me and my teammates. Every game, I am very proud to have Roncalli on my uniform, because I know the history of what that means.”
The atmosphere should be electric in the home gym as these seniors battle to earn the school’s first ever conference title in front of a packed house. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30, but fans are advised to arrive early as seating may be limited.
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