Menomonee Falls — With the happy interview over after his Indians' Greater Metro Conference title-clinching 67-46 rout of Wauwatosa East on Saturday night, Menomonee Falls boys basketball coach Ben Siebert bravely dove into the cacophony that was the celebration in the gym.
He was looking for his sport coat.
Siebert wore a coat and tie this evening, something he rarely does at games, but he did it this night because it was senior night, and he wanted to show respect to the six upperclassmen who were at the heart of the school's first league championship since 1993.
"I wore one last year, too, on senior night," he said. "I just wanted them to know how much they were appreciated. We made it a big deal. Terry Thomas (the coach of the 1993 Braveland Conference champions) came in and gave us a nice speech beforehand. He talked about how much he enjoyed watching us. How much fun he had.
"For us to make him proud is really something special."
And the six seniors, including tri-captains John Cording (12 points), Conor Cassidy (5) and Jonathan Phillips (9) as well as Adam Rubatt (7), Max Poeske and Joe Henningsen (4) accepted the honor with humility and grace.
"This feels great," said Cording. "We've been working so hard and playing so well together. It's just great to see teammates come together and achieve a great team goal like this. I love these guys. I just want to see this go on and on."
"We knew going into this season that we had a great chance at doing it," added Rubatt. "It was our best chance, and we got it done."
"It was a long journey and a great thing that happened," said Phillips, "but we've got a ways to go yet."
Tokoto leads the way
And the ringmaster of this fast-paced and often joyously chaotic circus of a team, sophomore J.P. Tokoto (game-high 18 points), was hugging both a game ball as well as happy fans and friends as fast as they could reach him.
He, too, recognized the moment's gravity, a potentially once-in-a-lifetime event that dwarfed the "Game-Changers" dunk outfit that entertained at halftime and the clockwork like visit of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
"It's really refreshing," Tokoto said. "To be part of something like this in the community that hasn't happened in so long is just great. Just great to have all of this happening now."
And the Indians (13-0 in conference and 17-3 overall), achieved the feat in their inimitable fashion. A little mess (turnovers and missed free throws in the first half), a little frustration (a testy East defensive effort that allowed the Red Raiders to take a 15-11 lead with 5:41 left in the first half) and a whole lot of explosiveness.
The latter came after East (6-7, 9-12) reached that aforementioned high-water mark in the first half, as the Indians then pulled the plug on their drain, ratcheting up the intensity of their suffocating press and going on a 23-4 run that would stretch over parts of two quarters and leave them ahead, 35-18, with 5:35 left in the third.
"It (the defense) is really our strength," said Siebert. "It can fuel quick offense and scores can come very quickly when we really apply things. You could tell that they weren't going to roll over and give us this, but you could tell after a certain point, that they were just tired. That's just a big testament to our depth."
Fun in the fourth
The lead reached 56-31 at the end of the third before the Indians had fun time in the fourth quarter.
The chant of "Conference champs, conference champs" starting booming from the overflow student section with about 2:15 remaining. The students then started in on the fabled "Referee Song" with about 45 seconds to go and then right before the buzzer Athletic Director Dave Petroff came up from a storeroom with a big box of white "conference champion" T-shirts made up especially for the occasion.
His grin was wide and long-lasting as he passed them out to the pleasantly surprised players.
As was that of Thomas as he milled among the throng unwilling to leave the court afterward. He gave a few appropriate congratulations and then threw a long look over his shoulder before he slipped out the door.
He expressed his delighted feelings in an earlier interview.
"This is just terrifically fun to watch," he said. "They give you their best shot every night, which is just great to see," Thomas said. "It's why you play."
And how you win championships.
A long time coming
Indians win GMC title, gain second seed in WIAA sectional
UP NEXT: Falls will look to close out the GMC race on a perfect 14-0 note when they visit Brookfield Central (7-6, 12-9) at 7:30 p.m. today. They took on Homestead in a nonconference game Monday (see MenomoneeFallsNOW.com for details).
WIAA TOURNEY: The Indians earned the second seed in the WIAA Division I sectional five and will get a first round regional bye. They will play the winner of seventh-seeded Waukesha North and 10th-seeded Mukwonago in a regional final on March 6 with the victor advancing to sectional play at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee on March 12. Classic 8 Conference runner-up Arrowhead (18-3) got the top seed. The Warhawks beat the Indians in a thriller in the WBBY Classic at the Al back in December. Falls has won 11 in a row since losing two games at the Classic (the other was to Classic 8 champ Catholic Memorial).
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