Gold Never Tasted So Sweet
It all began on March 5th, 2021, in Oshkosh. The Lake Country Lutheran boys basketball team tragically had their title hopes for that season crushed by the #1 Racine St. Catherine’s team in the D3 state final game, finishing as the runners-up in a game that they had desired so badly to win.
Then came November 30th, 2021. LCL took their first win of the 2021-22 season, marking the beginning of a 22-2 regular season run that would cement them as conference champs.
Next, March 4th, 2022. A little over three months after the start of the season, the Lightning entered the playoffs as a #1 seed and defeated their first postseason opponent, which was followed by three more gritty playoff wins leading up to the WIAA state championship.
And then, finally, came redemption for March 5th, 2021- on St. Patrick’s Day of 2022, in Madison. Lightning students, parents, and fans packed into the Kohl Center, decked out in green shamrock attire and their “Back 2 State” t-shirts fresh off the printer, as they anxiously awaited the start of their team’s D3 state semi-final game against St. Thomas More.
The Lightning entered the tournament as the #2 seed, just like last year, this time without now-senior starter John Nehls. St. Thomas More came ready to play, but the 70-43 win the Lightning took over the Cavaliers was anything but lucky on St. Patty’s Day- it was all heart. Sam Heicher kicked the game off by confidently swishing a three, setting the offensive tone and energy for the rest of his teammates. Luke Haertle, playing on his future home court, dropped a 35-point, 11-rebound double-double. Noah Howard aided with 17 points, while also reaching his 1000-point high school career milestone, just the fifth player in program history to do so.
LCL went searching for gold under a rainbow, and they found it at the Kohl Center that Thursday. Heading to the state final game for the second year in a row after defeating St. Thomas More was as good as gold, putting the Lightning in a position to bring home a gold basketball for the first time in school history.
Two days later, Saturday, March 19th came along. This time, the challenger was the #1-seed West Salem Panthers, fresh off a 71-61 state semi-final win over Brillion. The Panthers’ Peter Lattos was hot all game, proving to be a burden to the Lightning defense. The first half of the physical matchup ended with West Salem leading 31-29. Ben Lubbers, however, was not going to let the Panthers win the second half. He ended the game with a team-high 22 points, helped by Howard’s 16, and Haertle’s 11 rebounds and 9 assists.
After outscoring the Panthers by 13 points in the second half, the Lightning had finally done it, beating West Salem 67-56. For the first time in school history, the gold basketball was coming home to Hartland.
As the buzzer sounded, Carter Leibham, who was dribbling the clock out, flung the basketball high into the air as teammates around him slammed into each other gleefully and looked towards the ecstatic, faithful student section. Coach Newman soaked it all in, having previously mentioned how badly he wanted to go out and win a state title for the boys he coached.
On that Saturday, March 19th, 2022, gold had never tasted so sweet for the Lightning.
Photo taken by Lisa Theis