Gibraltar’s Fleeting Moment

Nearly two full years had passed since the last Gibraltar victory in boys basketball. Countless shots had been taken, practices survived, and ankles sprained. This is the familiar cycle of Gibraltar sports in the Packerland Conference: occasional stretches of a win or two or some close games, surrounded by disheartening, motivation-sapping losing streaks and disappointment.
Seventy-five straight losses for one sport. Forty-plus in two others. Some have been measured in years. In this case, the streak sat at 29.
Some players at Gibraltar have gone their entire varsity careers without experiencing the thrill of victory. In the early 1990s, many football players went through careers without playing a single competitive game, let alone winning one. Yet the WIAA never saw the desperate need to embark on meaningful realignment.
Currently, they are selling a plan that would alter the fortunes and experiences of hundreds of athletes at smaller area schools like Sevastopol, Algoma, Northeast Wisconsin Lutheran, and perhaps more than any other, Gibraltar. The proposal would place Gibraltar in a conference where the smallest school would have an enrollment of 115, and the largest 279.
Currently, Gibraltar is outnumbered 687-213 by Luxemburg/Casco, and competes against six conference schools with at least twice as many students. It’s this mismatch of size that leads to sports programs that delight in fleeting moments of achievement rather than sustained excellence. Moments such as the game Gibraltar played at home on January 13th against the Oconto Blue Devils.
The game started sloppy, with both teams taking ill-advised shots and turning the ball over, then it got worse as the referees allowed the game to deteriorate into chaos. Both coaches seemed exasperated by their teams’ inability to take advantage of numerous opportunities to take control of the game, and even more-so by the referees constant indecision and confusion.
The teams combined to shoot 68 free throws, and there may have been just as many turnovers as the two teams traded ball-handling miscues for significant stretches of the game. Three Blue Devils and one Viking fouled out. Yet in the midst of all the chaos, several other Vikings claimed long-awaited moments of their own.
Sophomore Mike Williams and Senior Joe Lundquist started dropping threes midway through the first quarter. Lundquist gained confidence and began attacking the basket and blocking shots. He would finish with 16 points and 5 blocks. Williams would finish with a career-high 22 points.
Josh Kjell came off the bench early. The big hustle they call Bus proved worthy of his nickname as he bulled into the lane to grab a crucial rebound, then drew a couple of fouls as the Vikings took off on a run to finish the first half.
The second half saw the emergence of another senior, as Cole Seaquist played stronger than ever, hitting key buckets and providing crucial defensive stops as the Blue Devils trimmed a 16-point gap to 8. He would finish with 11 points and 12 boards in what first-year head coach Marc Savard called “the most inspired basketball game of his career.”
Oconto was briefly able to spark fear in the hearts of an exuberant Gibraltar crowd, however, as they brought the press and forced the Vikings into a full-court style that is not their strength. They pecked away at the lead until Savard’s team finally got the ball into the more steady hands of Williams and fellow sophomore Justin Seaquist, who controlled the ball in key moments when another turnover might have turned the tide.
The final tally was Gibraltar 69, Oconto 52, but the most significant number was much smaller. One. Victory number one after 29 losses, and as one watched the often-belittled players and the small student section of Gibraltar revel in the moment, he couldn’t help but think that they deserve to have a better chance to feel this more often. You just hope that the WIAA will finally give it to them.

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