Falcons' relentlessness rewarded
Painstaking persistence earned Falcons two division titles
When Bryan Donaldson, Bryan Stave and Josh Pelkofer made the Whitnall varsity boys basketball team as freshmen in 2005-06, the Falcons were coming off a 2-19 season, so many figured there was no place to go but up.
Many were wrong.
The freshman trio did its best, but Whitnall lost every one of its 21 games that season.
Those three beleaguered freshmen may have thrown a few towels during that painful learning experience, but they never threw them in.
Part of that can be attributed to their character - and the character of the reinforcements who joined the Whitnall varsity in the three years that followed.
Part can be attributed to those who oversaw that learning experience as it continued in those ensuing years, namely Kent Kroupa and his coaching staff: Tom Hansen, Steve Kujawa, Craig Kroupa, Rich Wanta and Jim Krolikowski.
The byproducts that showed up on paper were a 9-13 record in 2006-07, a 14-8 mark and a Woodland Conference South Division championship in 2007-08 and a 17-6 ledger and another Woodland South title in 2008-09.
In their last Whitnall game together, the four-year veterans and their teammates faced a monumental uphill battle entering the fourth quarter of their sectional semifinal game against eventual WIAA Division 1 state runner-up Racine Horlick.
"We were down 19 going into the fourth quarter," Donaldson said, "But 'Coach K' just said, 'Keep fighting. We are not going to leave getting blown out.'
"I told Josh Pelkofer that we have to start taking over, and I told the whole team that we just have to believe. We hit a 3 and got a stop and hit two more 3s to cut it to 10. We just kept on fighting and never giving up. We had chances to cut it to three, but the shots just didn't fall.
"There was not one person on that floor who gave up, and I was so proud of all of them. The crowd was fantastic as we made our run, and just the passion and heart that we showed I hope impressed everyone."
The Falcons lost their season finale by only seven points, 65-58. It brought a conclusion to a journey that began long before the four-year lettermen were freshmen.
"Josh, Bryan, and I have played on the same Whitnall select team since fifth grade," Stave said. "Over this time we've developed incredible chemistry on and off the basketball court and that played a huge role in our success for the past two seasons.
"Not being able to play with them for Whitnall any longer is something that I will miss greatly. They're are the perfect teammates and great friends as well."
As he drew the big picture into perspective, the coach – the teacher – saw so much more than wins and losses.
"The hard work, the attitude and the effort that these guys have shown have been tremendous," Kroupa said. "We've always said we're using basketball as the avenue to teach them life. As freshmen, they were 0-21. They could have quit. They could have stopped working. But we all decided to really dig in and work as hard as we possibly could.
"We've dreamed and dreamed and dreamed about getting these guys in this position since they were in seventh grade. So here we are. These are good kids, they've worked hard, and they'll continue to work hard. I'm so proud of them. They've made this year a pleasure for me."
Mark Hutchinson can be reached at (262) 446-6614.
Fighters to the finish
2008-09 Whitnall Falcons:
Seniors: Babatunde Fajembola, Bryan Donaldson, Greg Szymanski, Josh Pelkofer, Jack Rivera, Bryan Stave, Andrew Wolff
Juniors: William Pelkofer, Jake Lehmann, Alex Jaskulski, Sawyer Nelson.
Sophomore: Joel Stave
Freshman: Stephen Pelkofer
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