A look back: Springfield celebrates 10th anniversary of state boys’ basketball championship
SPRINGFIELD — In late March this year, the 2010-2011 Springfield boys’ basketball team will look back and celebrate its Class A state tournament championship win.
And even a decade later, the Tigers are still the lone boys’ basketball team from the Tomahawk Conference to win a state title.
Springfield had a talented squad 10 years ago and they’ve had several other great teams since then, but this 2010-2011 team surprised many people when they took down powerhouse Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the Class A state title game. BBE was undefeated that season heading into that game with Springfield, and several writers, coaches and fans at the state tournament that year had a hunch they’d be seeing BBE end the season undefeated as champions.
But Springfield head coach Lance Larson and his team had other plans in mind, shocking BBE with a 70-58 win and taking home the school’s first state title in basketball.
“BBE had size and had really been a good 3-point shooting team all year, too,” Larson said. “They had a young point guard who was a really good player. They had beaten a really good MACCRAY team in the semifinals by close to 20 points and very good defensive team in Goodhue in the quarterfinals — so we knew we would have to play well. And our kids had done that all season — just risen to the next challenge. They were really excited to play that game. We were up at halftime and had allowed them about a dozen offensive rebounds that was keeping the game close. We talked about if we wanted to win, we would have to do a much better job on the boards. And to the kids’ credit, they really did.”
The Tigers foiled the end of BBE’s 2010-2011 campaign, but BBE was able to go 33-0 the following season and walk away with a state title. Larson said that he and his team were pretty proud, though, to be responsible for BBE’s one loss in the middle of so many wins.
The starters for Springfield in its 26-3 championship season were Alex Fink, Jesse Kieper, Dillon Schultz, Ryan Beyer and Cody Milbrath. Kieper led the way offensively for the Tigers that season, averaging 18.3 points per game on 55% shooting while adding 4.1 assists per game. He also won multiple awards as the Tomahawk Conference Player of the Year, the KNUJ Player of the Year and the All-Journal Player of the Year.
Kieper, Fink (13.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Milbrath (16.3 ppg, 7.2 rebounds per game) were also all named to the All-Tournament Team at state. Beyer added 5.2 ppg and 6.2 rpg.
Schultz, current head coach at Springfield in girls’ basketball and golf, averaged 10 ppg and 4.1 rpg that season. He said that he didn’t care what others thought of Springfield heading into the state tournament or how favored BBE was at the time.
“Honestly, I didn’t care where we were viewed, we were there for one mission and one goal, and we achieved that,” Schultz said. “We did feel like a lot of people favored the undefeated team over us, but we felt like we had been through more challenges and were ready to step into the winner’s circle.”
In the win over BBE, Springfield was led by Kieper’s 25 points, while Schultz added 17 and Fink chipped in 13.
Near the end of that game, Larson remembers telling Kieper that he reached a milestone in the win.
“I remember telling Jesse Kieper after he made a couple free throws towards the end of the game that he had just scored his 1,000th point,” Larson said. “And in classic Jesse form, he didn’t care or even know. He just was happy his team was about to be state champions.”
Tyler Marz, who ended up making it to the NFL as an offensive lineman after playing football for the Wisconsin Badgers, was out for most of the 2010-2011 basketball season after tearing his ACL during the 2010 football season. When Marz returned shortly before basketball playoffs, and much earlier than anticipated, he entered off the bench still not at 100%.
He went on to average 9.6 ppg and 5.1 rpg off the bench in 12 games.
Marz remembers getting a warm welcome from the Springfield fans when he returned to the floor after his injury and the support he and the team got from the community in general.
“The student section that we had was crazy,” Marz said. “I mean, I think I got a standing ovation the first time coming back. When I scored 1,000 points, they were cheering for the whole second half, I think, whatever time was left in the second half. It was just a great experience. We used to run out to country songs, which no one probably liked that, but we loved it. There’s a lot of memories and fun things to go back and look at.”
Kieper echoed Marz’s comments on how supportive the Springfield fans were, especially at the state tournament.
“The main memory that all of us look back on is seeing the crowd for the first time as we ran on the floor,” Kieper said. “Especially seeing how many fans from Springfield and the surrounding area made the trip to support us. It’s hard to remember a lot of details about the game, but the one thing that will always stick with us is seeing the support from the community. It was very special.”
With the Tigers being forced to start the season without Marz, they became a little bit more fast-paced offensively and put pressure on opposing teams on defense. When Marz, 6-7 and 275 pounds at the time, returned late in the season, the Tigers had multiple options of how they wanted to play things.
The Tigers’ first game in the tournament was against Upsala, a team that Larson said upset the favorite from Section 5 that year in Sebeka. The Tigers were able to handle Upsala, a scrappy team with good shooting, and picked up a 63-53 win.
In the second round, the Tigers took on Chisholm, a team that Larson described as very physical. The Tigers ended up winning 63-55 in overtime.
“We were fortunate to have them foul Alex Fink right at the end of the game when we were down 2,” Larson said. “And he made both free throws to send the game to OT where we took advantage and ended up winning by 8.”
Schultz said that Chisholm gave him the most problems.
“I know I struggled most against Chisholm, and I give that team a lot of credit,” he said. “They had some really great guards. BBE was probably the best team we faced overall. But at that level of competition, every game comes down to details.”
When the Tigers got to their final game at state against BBE, Marz said that he remembers coach Larson telling the team not to let up at halftime.
“I just remember at halftime, we were up,” Marz said. “But I just remember Lance coming to the locker room and saying like, ‘Guys, we’ve got one more half, this game is right in our hands. We’ve just got to take it.’ And that’s what we did.”
After the final horn sounded, Kieper recalled how proud he felt.
“I mostly felt prideful,” Kieper said. “Looking around, watching everybody going crazy and hugging each other, I remember thinking how proud I was to be a part of the team and a part of the community. I also remember the end of the game being a bittersweet moment. There was an initial joy we felt after accomplishing a goal we’d been working on since grade school, followed by a realization that we’d never get to be a team again. But a state championship isn’t a bad way to end the story.”
Larson added that it was a surreal moment to see his team take home the state title after years of ups and downs.
“It was a just a real surreal time to see the journey for that team come to an end ,” he said. “A team that three years earlier had only won three games with some of them playing as freshmen. A team who had made that state tourney the year before and lost in the first round after leading at halftime and had to get on a bus and go home, their state tourney experience over. I was just really happy for that group of guys. They really deserved it.
“I did know that no team from the Tomahawk Conference had ever won the state tourney,” Larson added. “I was up there in 1997 coaching with my dad when Wabasso got second and it was talked about then, but I guess it never really was something we talked about. We just wanted to go up there and show everyone that we had a really good team with a bunch of guys that wanted to win.”
Marz said that he was a waterboy for the Tigers’ state football title team that his older brother, Lucas, was on in 2005. He said he always wanted to win a state title in football like his brother, but he was proud to win Springfield’s first state title in basketball.
“When that buzzer went off [against BBE], it was just like, ‘We did it, we made it,'” Marz said. “We had this under our name for the rest of our lives, and it was the first time Springfield won state in basketball, too, which was pretty cool. We can say we were the first team to do that.”
2010-2011 Springfield Tigers Boys’ Basketball Roster
Shawn Anderson, Ryan Beyer, Dylan Boettger, Alex Fink, Cody Hammerschmidt, Jesse Kieper, Isaac Kirschstein, Christopher Kretsch, Tyler Marz, Jacob Menage, Cody Milbrath, Cole Milbrath, Dillon Schultz, Alex Smith, Matt Vogel.