After starting the season 0-4, things were not looking so good for the Gibsonburg Golden Bears.
With a chance to pack it in and take the easy way out, Gibsonburg boys’ basketball instead decided to get back to work and refocus its efforts on salvaging the season.
After suffering tough, early-season losses to the likes of Huron (74-39) and Toledo Christian (82-47), two of Northwest Ohio's better-ranked teams, the Bears righted the ship and proceeded to go 11-8 the rest of the season to finish with an 11-12 record and an 8-6 mark in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, good for fourth place.
|Gibsonburg 6' tall junior wing Tyler
Ersthausen goes to the basket for
two. (Photo courtesy of Innovations
It is an accomplishment when you consider that the Bears lost all five of their starters and 96 percent of the production from a team that went 17-5 and finished second in the TAAC last year.
Coach Brent Liskai says what was most impressive about this team was its mental toughness. After starting the season slowly and knowing they were entering the heart of the conference slate, they responded to salvage their season, notching impressive wins over the likes of Ottawa Hills (55-54), Cardinal Stritch Catholic (70-56) and Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic (73-67) in double overtime.
Gibsonburg's season came to an end when they fell, 61-50, to the very same St. Joseph team in the Division IV sectional semifinals.
Liskai, now in his 11th season at the helm, said, “I'm proud of these guys. To this group's credit they didn't panic. Those are types of kids we have. You know that when you come to watch us play we're going to play hard. And I think we improved as much as most teams, maybe more so.”
The Bears were led by point guard Jordan Kreglow, a 5-foot-8 sophomore, who led the team in both points (14.1) and assists (6.4). Liskai says Kreglow did a magnificent job this season while being faced with the unenviable task of replacing Gage Beaber, a four-year lettermen and 2012 All-TAAC selection who is currently playing basketball at Trine University in Angola, Indiana.
Small forward Tyler Ernsthausen was second in scoring on the team, averaging 12 points and leading the team with 7.1 rebounds. Andrew Cantrell, one of the few rotation players who saw consistent playing time last season, averaged 11.5 points and was team's best outside shooter, connecting on 64 three-pointers, a school record.
Junior center Andy Burmeister, who at 6-2 is not particularly tall for a post player, averaged 5.2 rebounds while going up against players who often had two to three inches on him.
The Bears will graduate three players, Jordan Jahna, Jeremy Leavitt and Billy VanDerLaar, but the majority of their production will return next season — a sign that great things could be on the horizon.
“We live by the motto, 'Every play. Every day,'” Liskai said. “That's how every practice is — we get after (the players) and we try to pay attention to detail. I have great kids that play for me and I work in a really nice community. We tell them scoreboards and stuff like that will take care of itself. The two things you can control are your effort and attitude. We don't set goals of wins and losses, we just want to max out and play our best ball at the end of the year. I think this group played pretty good basketball towards the end.”
Part of the team's success came because of a difficult non-conference slate that featured four league champions — Huron, SJCC, Otsego and Old Fort, which sported a combined record of 73-17 (.811). That helped prepare the Bears for the TAAC, which features the likes of Toledo Christian (20-2) and Ottawa Hills (17-4), two of the state's top programs again this year.
“Five of the teams we played shared or won a league title and three of them are ranked in the state,” Liskai said. “We'll play anybody anywhere, that's the type of schedule we have.”
During his tenure at his alma mater, Liskai, 1989 graduate of Gibsonburg, has built a team that has consistently won and finished in the top half of its league. His most memorable season came in 2006 when the Bears won the Suburban Lakes League title and advanced to the D-III regional semifinals, and, in '11, the Bears embarked on an impressive tournament run that saw them reach the district finals before falling in overtime, 71-63, to Ontario. Last year's squad, which went 17-5, finished second in the TAAC before falling in heartbreaking fashion, 45-40, to Toledo Christian, a district finalist, in the sectional tournament at Eastwood.
Liskai's teams have gone 96-72 (.571) over the last six years while first competing as the smallest school in the SLL and then moving onto the TAAC, one of Ohio's best small school basketball conferences, two years ago.
Needless to say, Liskai remains optimistic about what lies ahead.
“We'll sit down and set our goals. The kids will set their individual goals,” he said. “I've got a bunch of kids that are gym rats. I'd like our guys to do something with the potential they have. If they do their stuff individually, when we come back as a team, we'll put a nice product on the floor.”