The Sun Prairie boys basketball team faced heavy graduation losses and personnel departures from the program’s first state tournament qualifier last year.
The Cardinals then endured injuries, absences and a shuffled roster and lineup during this season, finishing fourth in the Big Eight Conference.
Despite those obstacles, Sun Prairie pulled together to make a strong run down the stretch, the players impressing Cardinals coach Jeff Boos with their resiliency.
The late-season surge propelled the Cardinals to a return trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament at the Kohl Center. Sun Prairie savored its first appearance in the title game after upending second-seeded West Allis Central in overtime in Friday night’s semifinal.
But the Cardinals’ bid for another upset and their first boys basketball gold ball was shot down quickly by hot-shooting Brookfield Central on Saturday night.
Top-seeded and sixth-ranked Brookfield Central shot 68.2 percent from the field and opened a 16-point lead during the first half en route to a 69-52 victory over third-seeded and unranked Sun Prairie in the Division 1 championship game.
“You have to tip your hat to Brookfield Central, which played an outstanding basketball game,” Boos said after the Lancers shot 63.9 percent (23-for-36) from the field overall and 64.3 percent (9-for-14) from 3-point range. “(They) executed very well, shot the ball extremely well from the 3-point line. And we kind of dug ourselves a little bit of a hole and we had to make some adjustments and changes to try to get ourselves back into it. We just were never able to get into what I would call striking distance.”
The Lancers (23-5) claimed their first boys basketball title in 11 state appearances.
Forward David Joplin, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, had game-high totals of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Sophomore guard Ben Nau scored 17 points and senior guard Cole Nau contributed 13 points and six assists.
“To get this gold ball is amazing, it’s truly special," Cole Nau said.
Sun Prairie (21-7) had its six-game winning streak snapped.
“They got off to a really good start and they finished it,” Boos said. “In sports, some nights somebody just plays better than you do. And that’s the credit I give to them for their ability to execute and do their game plan and play better than we did tonight.
"But I’m very, very proud of our team and very proud of our accomplishments this year. And to be able to come back here and finish second, obviously, we would have loved to have been the champs, but we’re OK with being second place tonight.”
Brock Voigt, a 6-5 forward, led the the Cardinals with 17 points while 6-6 junior forward Delaware Hale and junior guard Colin Schaefer had 11 points apiece.
"I’m proud of my team, each and every one of us," Voigt said. "We all bought into what coach is saying. We were all able to do something that nobody thought we could do. I’m really proud of our team and everything we’d done this year.”
The Lancers got off to a fast start behind Joplin, who scored six points during an 11-3 run to open the game. Senior Connor Kolb made a 3-pointer, increasing the Lancers’ lead to 14-3. That capped a 12-0 run.
“The fast start gave us a lot of confidence," Brookfield Central coach Dan Wandrey said.
That forced the Cardinals into comeback mode, using a 7-2 run to cut into the deficit. Voigt made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, bringing the Cardinals within 16-10 with 11 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first half.
Brookfield Central then put Sun Prairie in a huge hole with a barrage of 3-pointers.
Freshman Andrew Rohde connected on a 3-pointer from the right corner and Cole Nau made two 3-pointers as Brookfield Central gained a 25-14 lead. Ben Nau scored on a drive and senior forward Jack Cooney hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, extending the Lancers’ advantage to 30-14.
The Cardinals tried to battle back after the Lancers’ 8-0 run. Voigt’s 3-pointer from the right wing capped a 7-2 run, which helped Sun Prairie close within 32-21.
The Lancers, who led 36-25 at halftime, were 15-for-22 from the field in the first half. That included 54.5 percent (6-for-11) from 3-point range.
“There is an immense amount of pride in our team," Wandrey said. "These seniors have played together since third or fourth grade and they just have developed a bond and a union they’ve spread to our whole team.
"We set out to have this goal from the beginning of the season, so that’s an amazing feeling. I couldn’t be more proud of them. … You look at Sun Prairie and coach Boos and some of the trials and tribulations that have gone on there, those guys were just playing with an unbelievable amount of spirit and heart and they played so hard and did a lot of really good things. … We were always able to make enough shots and make enough plays to keep them at arm’s length.”
Joplin led Brookfield Central with 10 points and five rebounds in the pivotal first half.
“Our guys inside, David was an absolute man today," Wandrey said. "That was awesome to see. That forces the defense to react to him.”
The Cardinals, who were led by Voigt’s 10 points, shot 31.8 percent (7-for-22) in the first half.
Sun Prairie rallied within 10 points in the second half, but Cooney and Ben Nau sank consecutive 3-pointers and Brookfield Central’s lead ballooned to 49-33.
Four foul shots by Joplin boosted the Lancers’ lead to 53-35 with 11:34 remaining to play.
Saturday night’s Division 1 championship game followed the Division 2 title contest between Milwaukee Washington and Glendale Nicolet, which featured two former Sun Prairie players, brothers Jalen and Kobe Johnson.
They were part of the Cardinals’ program last year when Sun Prairie dropped a two-point overtime decision to Brookfield East in the Division 1 state semifinals.
But heavily recruited Jalen Johnson, a 6-9 junior, and 6-3 sophomore Kobe Johnson transferred to Nicolet last summer. Jalen Johnson had 20 points and 20 rebounds and Nicolet claimed the Division 2 championship with a 67-54 victory Saturday.
Brookfield Central, which finished second behind Sussex Hamilton in the Greater Metro Conference, returned to the state tournament for the first time since 2017, when it fell to Hartland Arrowhead in overtime in the semifinals.
Brookfield Central lost a key component of its team late this season when Gage Malensek was charged with selling drugs, according to media reports. Malensek pleaded not guilty March 1.
But Cole Nau and Joplin said they remained confident then that the Lancers could achieve their ultimate goal.
“(There was) no doubt at all," Nau said. "The confidence I have in my players and our coaches is off the charts. After some of the things happened, we gathered together as a team and it really worked out."
Said Joplin: “We didn’t have any doubt at all. We knew that we all had a job to do and our goal was to win the state championship. So, it was pretty cool just making sure we did that tonight.”
The Lancers topped fourth-seeded Neenah 61-47 in the other Division 1 semifinal Friday night. Cole Nau scored a game-high 21 points, while Joplin added 12. Joplin and Nau were the Lancers’ leading scorers entering the tournament.
Sun Prairie rallied from a 10-point deficit in its semifinal.
Sun Prairie, which shot 56.8 percent from the foul line entering Friday’s game, was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line and outscored West Allis Central 11-9 in overtime. Cooper Nelson, a football preferred walk-on as a wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin, scored the Cardinals’ only basket in overtime.
Boos said he was proud of the resiliency his team demonstrated and the growth the Cardinals showed as players and people.
“It’s been quite a journey for these guys and myself, so it’s been a really outstanding year," Boos said.
Sun Prairie 25 27 — 52
Brookfield Central 36 33 — 69
SUN PRAIRIE — Schaefer 5-11 0-0 11, Nelson 1-9 0-0 3, Auston 3-7 1-2 9, B. Voigt 6-13 4-4 17, A. Voigt 0-2 0-0 0, Hawk 0-1 0-0 0, Hughes 0-1 1-2 1, Hale 1-8 9-10 11, Cameron 0-0 0-0 0, Wherley 0-0 0-0 0, Lyles 0-0 0-0 0, Co. Amundson 0-0 0-0 0, Kluesner 0-0 0-0 0, Ca. Amundson 0-0 0-0 0, Karner 0-0 0-0 0, Fritz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-52 15-18 52.
BROOKFIELD CENTRAL — C. Nau 5-7 1-2 13, Abdul-Wahid 2-2 0-0 4, B. Nau 5-9 4-4 17, Kolb 1-1 0-0 3, Joplin 7-10 9-10 23, Rohde 1-3 0-0 3, Cooney 2-4 0-0 6, McDermid 0-0 0-0 0, Osman 0-0 0-0 0, Bruggink 0-0 0-0 0, Leszczynski 0-0 0-0 0, Stocke 0-0 0-0 0, Radisevic 0-0 0-0 0, Devine 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-36 14-16 69.
3-point shooting — SP 5-16 (Auston 2-4, Schaefer 1-3, Nelson 1-2, B. Voigt 1-4, Hale 0-3); BC 9-14 (B. Nau 3-4, C. Nau 2-3, Kolb 1-1, Rohde 1-2, Cooney 2-4). Rebounds — SP 19-8-27 (Nelson 7, B. Voigt 5); BC 6-18-24 (Joplin 13). Assists — SP 5 (Nelson 2); BC 13 (C. Nau 6). Turnovers — SP 7; BC 11. Steals — SP 7 (Nelson 3); BC 4 (Joplin 3). Blocks — SP 3 (Schaefer 2); BC 4 (B. Nau 2). Total fouls — SP 14; BC 13.