Amid UW’s heroic comeback to defeat Richmond and dramatic loss to Pittsburgh in Milwaukee over the weekend, a piece of the program’s future dominated in the Kohl Center, clad not in Badger red, but in Randolph High blue.
In what many Wisconsin fans hope will be a forebear of things to come, Randolph High senior Greg Stiemsma led his school to an unprecedented third consecutive WIAA Division IV state title and the first undefeated season by a D-IV team since Sam Okey’s Cassville squad in 1995.
With the win, Randolph became the first boys’ basketball team to pull off a three-peat since Tom Diener’s Milwaukee Vincent squads of 1996-98.
Playing above the rim in a game taking place decidedly below it, Stiemsma’s court presence was more indicative of his dominant performance than the stat sheets could ever reflect. In four previous tournament games with Randolph, all victories, Stiemsma averaged 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds a game.
In Friday’s semifinal game against Superior’s Maranatha Academy, a school with an enrollment of just 40 students, Stiemsma set the tone early with a monstrous two-handed jam from directly underneath the hoop. With 1:30 left in the first quarter, Stiemsma registered two blocks and a goaltending call during a single Maranatha possession.
Late in the game, he skied well above the rim to grab a shot by Marantha’s Brett Johnson straight out of the air. Curling the ball under his arm, he whipped a pass down court to streaking guard Mike Biel for an easy two.
In the second half, as the monumentally undersized, thin Maranatha team wore down, Randolph pulled within striking distance and secured a 54-37 victory. In the win, Stiemsma registered 11 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. He was called for goaltending three times.
Utilizing his imposing size, Stiemsma has the ability to score nearly at will in the low post. This ability will be put to the test at the college level, when the 6-foot-11 standout will confront players more able to physically match up. The junior contends that defense and shot blocking are his best abilities, however.
“I pride myself on my defense,” he said. “[It] has always been my specialty. I’m just down there playing my game.”
Battling a knee injury that sidelined him for the first six games of the season, Stiemsma took a back seat in scoring this season to 6-7 junior Ryan Tillema, who is also being courted by UW and was named player of the year in Randolph’s Trailway’s Conference.
“We had to be careful with it early on… but it’s out of his mind now,” Randolph coach Bob Haffele said of Stiemsma’s surgically repaired knee. Stiemsma agreed, saying the knee is not quite 100 percent, but is no longer a concern while on the court.
Though not always the focus of the Rocket’s spread offense, Stiemsma truly owns the high school paint, forcing opponents to rely almost solely on outside shooting to contend against the Rockets. Throughout Randolph’s undefeated season, few teams did.
Haffele said, though, that the contest against Hilbert was as close as any his team had seen this season. Hilbert took a late lead on a three-pointer by Mitch Schwalenberg at the outset of the 4th quarter.
Randolph would answer, however, with a Stiemsma block that led to an outlet pass to guard Nick Gorr, who broke down the court and layed an alley-oop off the glass for a trailing Stiemsma, who slammed the ball home and halted all Hilbert momentum. From that point on, Randolph would not relinquish the lead.
Tillema again led the attack for Randolph in the championship matchup, recording 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Rockets on a cold shooting day. Stiemsma and the Rockets again owned the paint against a Hilbert team that features only one player taller than 6-2.
Relying on the outside shooting of Schwalenberg and senior guard Sean Schnieder, Hilbert could not stay with the Randolph team, as their second half shooting fell short and their inability to contain Tillema’s penetration game proved fatal.
“We jus battled and battled,” first-year Hilbert coach Stan Diedrich said. “We just wanted to force [Stiemsma] of the block. It doesn’t pay to front him, because they can just toss it over our heads.”
After Randolph’s championship run, Wisconsin fans are left to wonder if Stiemsma will maintain this sort of dominance in the Kohl Center’s paint for the next several years as he has the past three ? but with the level of competition set to step up a notch or two.