Coming off of one of the best seasons in school history, the defending state champion UW-Waukesha men's basketball team entered the 2017-18 campaign determined to continue the program's long, rich winning tradition.
With the return of three battle-tested sophomores and addition of a talented cast of hungry, new players to the roster, UW-Waukesha continued to mesh throughout the year, made huge strides forward each time it stepped on the court and continued to live up to its reputation as one of the premier junior college programs in the state.
That confident game-by-game approach produced big results for the hard-working Cougars, who finished second in the highly competitive Wisconsin Collegiate Conference East standings with an 11-6 record and 16-10 overall.
For UW-Waukesha head coach Adam Ligocki, it was exciting watching his young, hungry team's progression throughout the year.
"There's a lot to be proud of when looking back on the season," said Ligocki, who is 86-41 overall following his fifth year at the helm. "Coming in as the defending state champion, the target was on our backs so every team had a little extra motivation and brought their best effort to the court each time. We were disappointed with how it turned out in the playoffs but very happy with the overall effort and how we gradually developed into a tough, grind-it-out type of team. The guys competed hard and did a nice job of representing UW-Waukesha from beginning to end."
The Cougars went 4-6 over the course of the first semester (including difficult nonconference losses to Rock Valley College, College of Lake County and Milwaukee Area Technical College) but responded with confidence-building victories over UW-Richland (84-52), UW-Fond du Lac (94-80), UW-Sheboygan (83-79) and UW-Manitowoc (95-79).
Back-to-back home-court losses to UW-Fox Valley (67-66) and eventual WCC state champion UW-Washington (78-76) prior to the Christmas break proved to be the turning point - ultimately serving as motivation the rest of the way.
UW-Waukesha responded to the challenge by winning 12 of its final 16 games - including six of its last seven to close the regular season.
The inspired turnaround was highlighted victories over UW-Rock (80-76), Maranatha Baptist (86-51), UW-Richland (92-86), Concordia University of Wisconsin junior varsity (79-69), UW-Fond du Lac (93-78), UW-Fox Valley (63-54), Marian University junior varsity (84-68), UW-Sheboygan (63-61), UW-Manitowoc (83-62) and UW-Marinette (79-77).
The Cougars, who captured the No. 2 seed in the WCC playoffs, defeated UW-Fond du Lac in the opening round (77-66).
UW-Waukesha's hopes for a third consecutive trip to the WCC Final Four ended with a loss to UW-Sheboygan (81-70) in an emotional, hard-fought WCC quarterfinal playoff game Feb. 17.
"With the talent, depth and competitiveness of the conference, it often takes experienced sophomores to be successful come tournament time," Ligocki added. "From that standpoint, it will be exciting to see how all of our freshmen use the experience and attempt to take their effort to a higher level heading into next year. After all of the progress made this season, we fully expect to hit the floor running."
The Cougars were led by a trio of all-conference players, including sophomore post player Kurt Meyle from St. John's Northwestern Military Academy, freshman wing Jayden Hardy from Nicolet and freshman wing Ben Schaefer from Muskego.
Meyle earned first-team all-conference honors by averaging a team-high 15.8 points per game with 7.0 rebounds to lead the Cougars. Hardy, who averaged 14.8 ppg. with 7.8 rpg., 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals, was named to the second team.
Schaefer, an honorable mention selection, averaged 9.2 ppg. with a team-high 8.5 rpg., 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals to round out the list of accolades.
COUGAR FAST FACTS
What: The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha men's basketball team
Final Record: Finished 11-6 in Wisconsin Collegiate Conference East (second place), 16-10 overall (The Cougars lost to UW-Sheboygan 81-70 in a WCC quarterfinal on Feb. 17)
Head Coach: Adam Ligocki, fifth season (86-41 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Kyle Fuller and James Boling
Team Members: Sophomore wing Anthony Kroening from Home School, sophomore post player Kurt Meyle from St. John's Northwestern Military Academy, sophomore post Tyler Schroeter from Greenfield, freshman guard Wes Meister from Arrowhead, freshman guard Jaylon Hare from Wisconsin Lutheran, freshman wing Jayden Hardy from Nicolet, freshman wing Ben Schaefer from Muskego, freshman guard Jackson Kunnert from Pewaukee, freshman guard D.J. Jennings from Milwaukee Hamilton, freshman post Phillip Griffith from Gladstone, Mich., freshman wing Avery Corey from Waterford, freshman post Troy Viegut Jr. from Waukesha North, freshman wing Sebastian Luksich from Arrowhead, freshman guard Damar Mathews from Milwaukee Riverside, freshman wing Cal Reinders from Oconomowoc and freshman wing Lathen Secord from Oconomowoc