Falcons hoopsters soared to memorable campaign
Balance, defense propelled Whitnall boys
Greenfield - With seven returning seniors, Whitnall boys basketball coach Kent Kroupa knew he would have a good chance for a strong 2011-12 season.
As it turned out, though, the Falcons actually enjoyed a season for the record books.
They finished 22-3, winning the Woodland Conference Black Division championship at 15-2. Their two regular-season losses, to New Berlin West and Eisenhower, came by a total of three points, and they later avenged both defeats.
Home court advantage
They were unbeaten at home (11-0, including the WIAA Division 2 playoffs) and beat highly-regarded Milwaukee Washington and Milwaukee Marshall in non-conference action.
Their campaign ended with a disappointing 66-62 loss to Pius XI in sectional play, but Kroupa knew this had been a special season at Whitnall.
"Going into it, I knew we would have a good (season)," he said. "The seniors had worked hard. To win 22 games, though, is a good deal. We obviously had no losing streaks and we ran good games together. It was a fun season, one of my best at Whitnall."
The Falcons put together their second-best record under Kroupa, trailing only the 25-2 posted by the 1988 state championship squad.
It's not as if they sneaked up on anyone, either, as they were in the top 10 of Division 2 all season. That drew them extra attention - and the best efforts of every opponent.
"We had an 'X' on our back all season," Kroupa said.
Finding offensive balance
Whitnall succeeded largely because of its balance and unselfishness on offense. Senior wing Luke Mentkowski led the team with 13.6 points per contest, while senior wing Stephen Pelkofer was at 12.8, senior wing Ian Ray at 12.4 and senior post Bryan Nagy at 8.9 per game.
The Falcons were especially proficient from 3-point field goal range, with Ray connecting on 47 for the season and Mentkowski 46.
"Luke started it out with a couple of 20-point games early, then others followed," Kroupa said. "They used to feel that you could beat Whitnall by stopping Pelkofer and Nagy, but not any more. A number of coaches said (during the year) that they didn't know who to lock in on."
Pelkofer was honored as the Woodland Black Player of the Year and was joined on the all-division first team by Nagy. Mentkowski and Ray both made the second team.
Another factor for the Falcons this season was defense, as they allowed just 45.2 points per game in the Woodland.
"We always have a sound defense, and I am proud of that," Kroupa said. "We were the top defensive team in the Woodland, both divisions, just edging out New Berlin West."
Awarding team members
As far as team awards, Pelkofer was named the most valuable player and the best defensive player. Among his exploits were holding New Berlin West's Dan Sidesky (19.7 average) to just a total of five points in two meetings and slowing Pius XI stars Carrington Love and Larry Fitzgerald in the sectional matchup.
Ray, the outside gunner who sparked the offense with his 3-pointers, was cited as the team's most improved player.
Whitnall loses seniors Mentkowski, Nagy, Pelkofer, Ray, Michael Bonin, Sam Watson and Zachary Braun, so a rebuilding job awaits next season.
"They led the way for us," Kroupa said. "They gave us a lot of experience and leadership. You just don't replace kids like Pelkofer and Nagy and their work ethic."
Veteran backcourt returns
The leading scorer back will be junior post/guard Sam Mentkowski, who averaged six points this season.
"We have veteran guards with Sam, (junior) Danny Weymier and (junior) Brent Sluka," Kroupa said, "but we need improvement in the post. There is no one on the junior varsity team who is at that level yet. It will depend on their improvement in the summer and fall. We also need to rebuild the team depth after losing all those seniors."
There will be time to think about next year, but for now Kroupa can savor the accomplishments of the 2011-12 squad.
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