It was going to be an uphill battle for first-year Menomonee Falls boys basketball coach Ben Farley and his Indians this season.
They had graduated many last year, and a top returning player had transferred to Germantown.
But despite some ups and downs, these Indians battled all season, and what started out as a long slog uphill, turned out to be an almost level playing field as they finished with an 11-12 record.
"We had our banquet a couple of nights ago," Farley said, "and we noted that we finished the regular season 11-11 overall and 7-7 in the Greater Metro, one of the toughest leagues in the state, and we thought that was a big victory for our program."
The Indians recently finished their season with a WIAA regional loss to Classic 8 Conference champion Kettle Moraine. Their mode of operation this season was the close game.
"We had a number of them," Farley said. "There were some real highlights in there. There were a lot of fourth quarter comebacks. I think our biggest victory of the season was by only 10 points or so. So to get to 11 wins that way said a lot about our mentality.
"We had some toughness and we were able to win some games that way."
In fact, the easiest win the Indians had all season was their first one, a 75-62 decision over non-conference opponent Sheboygan North.
Along the way, they had wins by two (twice), three (once) and four (twice). Arguably the biggest wins were over state-ranked Waukesha West and a 61-51 decision against a 20-5 GMC runner-up West Allis Central squad, which beat City Conference champion Milwaukee Hamilton in regional play.
"And we should have beaten them the second time around too," said Farley of Central.
The Indians were led by second-team, All-GMC forward and team MVP Jerry Murphy, who averaged 11.4 points and seven rebounds per game. Fellow senior forward Jason Precia was honorable mention all-conference after battling back from a shoulder injury during the football season. Precia averaged 8.5 ppg and also hit a team-high 21 3-pointers.
The pair were team co-captains.
Farley was very happy with how the team made the adjustment to him as a new coach.
"With as much change as there was, I was very pleased with their reaction," he said. "I just tried to put myself in a the mind of a 15-16 year old reacting to a whole new offense and a whole new defense (which is what we did). I just hope that (good) attitude grows."
Sophomore guard Bryce McMurtry was the second-leading scorer at 8.8 ppg with 18 3-pointers, while junior guard Dontrell Handy averaged 6.5 ppg and won the team's toughness award. Junior forward Jake Stauffacher averaged six points a contest and claimed the team's most improved honors.
With those three back, Farley is encouraged for the future. He noted that the junior varsity was 10-12 on the season and that the freshmen were GMC champs at 18-2. That unit's only losses were to Marquette in conference and to the frosh unit of three-time state champion Germantown.
Sophomore forward Ty Weber and junior forward Paul Koier also saw many valuable varsity minutes this past season.
Overall, the Indians will graduate five seniors: Murphy, Precia, Daniel Dahlke, Devin Jackson and Anthony Russo.
Farley knew that this season was just a steppingstone, but it was one where a clear path to success could be staked out and traveled. He has reason to be optimistic.
"We want to be that program that can go out and compete every night," said Farley. "It was fun this season. I love to game plan and interact with young men who want to work hard. It was cool working with them."
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