For the fourth time the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point won the NCAA Division III men’s basketball championship, defeating Augustana 70-54 on March 21.
In the championship game, UWSP had a balanced attack as the offense stayed hot and the defense stayed strong. This manner of play caused eight consecutive stops. Senior guard Austin Ryf led the way in scoring with 17 points and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after shooting over 50 percent beyond the arc.
“When you have a guy like that leading you, it makes it easy for other guys to step up,” said junior forward Sean McGann. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”
Joining Ryf on the All-Tournament team was senior guard Joe Ritchay, who had 15 points in the championship game and junior Stephen Pelkofer who had 14. The offense was a strength during the tournament but the old cliché of defense wins the championship applies to this team since the defense was the Pointer’s team strength all season. In the sectional final against East Texas Baptist, the Pointers held the Tigers to 28 points all game, an NCAA Division III tournament record.
“Our defense was our constant this year,” said assistant coach Kent Dernbach. “We talked about it all year and for a six game stretch we were on the top of our game, which gave our offense more confidence.”
McGann said the defense was strong this season due to head coach Bob Semling preaching it all year.
“There is no way our defense is that good if he is not demanding,” McGann said. “He is extremely demanding, but we respect him for that, which helped our run. He wanted this moment for us. ”
Semling was named D3Hoops.com Coach of the Year for the second time in his career. Semling has been a part of all four national championships at UWSP, winning two as head coach.
The Pointers six-game win streak came after losing in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament to UW-Oshkosh. Dernbach and McGann said, after the Oshkosh loss, the team regrouped as one with hopes of making a championship run.
“Our guys were disappointed,” said Dernbach. “ They came together as a team, in a players only meeting, and then we talked to them saying this can be something special or it won’t. They made a commitment to making it something special.”
McGann thought the same.
“Oshkosh was extremely humbling and we met in the locker room as a team the next day saying how that wasn’t us,” McGann said. “We knew we could make a run because we were a dangerous team.”
UWSP rolled through their competition in the tournament, with double-digit wins in five of the six games by an average of 18.5 points. One of the games was a 73-53 win over Emory University, avenging last season’s loss in the sectional round.
Coming into the season, there were questions about how the team would bounce back after falling to Emory in the tournament after going 28-2 in the season. The team relied on seniors of Ryf, Ritchay, Alex Richard and Jordan Lutz this season, along with McGann and Pelkofer.
“We needed all six guys to play well to be at the top of our game,” Dernbach said. “This year’s team prided itself playing together.”
The four seniors stepped up this season, from role players to the leaders of the team, and they now leave UWSP as champions.
“For three previous years they played their roles but this year took on more prominent roles,” Dernbach said. “They were a tough and selfless group that most fans can appreciate.”
Dernbach and McGann both stressed fan support bolstered the team’s success, including the tournament. The Pointers hosted four tournament games and had a donor donate $600 to the team. The team used that donation to purchase free tickets for students in the first and second rounds. The team also held a championship rally, on April 1 in the Quandt Gym, for fans to celebrate the championship season.
The team will defend its national and conference championships with new players in starting roles, such as sophomores Caden Untiedt, Brad Freeborn and Aaron Retzlaff in the lineup.
“It’s going to be a different team, but it’s going to be a fun year,” McGann said. “Stephen and I know what to do, but it’s going to take some time like this year to get everyone into their roles.”
This year’s team will be forever remembered as national champions with the team photo in the Quandt Gym.
“That’s what made it home, that we are going to be up in Quandt forever,” McGann said. “Coach always points to the teams on the wall and now he is going to point to us talk about our team.”