After some ups and downs during the 2015-16 regular season, the Whitnall boys basketball team mounted a stirring run to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament.
The Falcons started out 9-2 but then struggled through a 6-4 stretch midway through the campaign, which cost them a chance to catch Brown Deer for the Woodland Conference East Division championship.
They put everything together once the tournament rolled around, however, rallying past Bay View, shutting down Pewaukee and avenging an earlier loss, tipping Waukesha North in overtime and pulling away from Whitefish Bay in the final minutes of the sectional championship contest.
In those games, they made all the key plays down the stretch to win, and even though they lost to Waunakee in the state semifinal, they rallied from 10 points down and had a good look at a game-tying 3-point field goal at the buzzer.
Underclassmen led way
The tournament run was keyed by sophomore guard Tyler Herro, junior forward Kevion Taylor and sophomore forward Danny Alexopoulos, who were the Falcons' top three scorers all season.
Herro averaged 24 points and also led the team in assists with 3.9 per game; Taylor averaged 19 points and 7.3 rebounds; and Alexopoulos tallied 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Herro shared Woodland East player of the year honors with Taurus Adams of Brown Deer and was first-team all-state, and Taylor was first-team all-division and honorable-mention all-state.
Coach Steve Kujawa, however, was quick to point out the key role his team's seniors played on the road to Madison.
'The seniors in particular, Austin Brault, Andrew Mixon, Cory Drews, Daren Thomas and Patrick Schinner ... when you have young talent, there can be jealousy, but there was none of that this entire season,' Kujawa said to the state media in Madison. 'I can't tell you enough how proud I am of them understanding their roles and responsibilities all the way through.
'Those five seniors were huge for our success now, and I think for the future as well.'
Brault, the team's point guard, averaged 7 points and led the Falcons in assists with 94, or 3.1 per contest, and the other seniors also made contributions on the floor as well and provided leadership this season.
This season, besides giving the Falcon fans some wonderful memories, also set the stage for perhaps even bigger accomplishments next year.
Herro, Taylor and Alexopoulos all return, along with others who saw valuable varsity time this season, and the Whitnall junior varsity squad posted 20 victories as well.
That all means expectations will be high for a possible Woodland East championship and return trip to state.
Deal with expectations
'We talked about that,' Kujawa said. 'There have been a lot of great teams that never got to state. You have to take advantage of that particular moment, and I thought we did that. Certainly there will be a lot of expectations next season, and that's going to be another challenge for us to handle being one of the top teams in the state.
'The work is going to start now with that younger group. It's get to work, let's get better, bigger, faster, stronger. Nothing's going to be easy when you have that target on your back. We're very proud of our accomplishments this year; we're looking forward to the next couple of years, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.'
Herro agreed with his coach, adding, 'This only makes us hungrier, with Kevion and I coming back. We'll work hard this summer with AAU and then come back next season.'