Carson Arenz can be a lot of things to the Onalaska High School boys basketball team. Maybe more than anything, he can be a difference-maker as the Hilltoppers gear up for the stretch run.

Onalaska's Carson Arenz

Onalaska's Carson Arenz shoots against Holmen's Sawyer Phillips during an MVC game at Holmen. Arenz, a sophomore, has been a key piece in the Hilltoppers leading the MVC and becoming the state's third-ranked Division 2 team.

Still developing his all-around game as a 6-foot-4 sophomore, Arenz erupted for a career-high 26 points in Onalaska’s 61-55 win over Logan on Monday night, helping to round out what is a very dangerous team on a 15-game winning streak.

“He’s so important,” Onalaska coach Craig Kowal said of Arenz, who is averaging 13.2 points per game for the third-ranked and MVC-leading Hilltoppers (16-1, 9-0). “He shoots a really good percentage from 3, and we can post him at the high post. He’s so versatile and can score in a variety of ways.”

With the Rangers locked in on leading scorer Noah Skifton (17.4 points per game), Onalaska needed a spark, and Arenz was more than able to provide.

“With the matchup and the way they were guarding Skifton, we knew that he had to dominate, and he did, especially in that first half,” Kowal said of Arenz, who had 20 points by halftime.

For Arenz, the concept was easy: more open space equals easier shots.

“They were really keying on Skifton, and they were just kind of leaving me open, so I just took advantage of that,” said Arenz, who connected on four 3-pointers. “I just started shooting more and more.”

After playing sparingly as a freshman, Kowal said that Arenz’s growth from one year to the next has vaulted him into an integral role in the way that the Hilltoppers like to play.

His ability to shoot off the dribble, spot up from distance and get to the basket has made it tough for Kowal to keep Arenz off the floor.

“Last year, he didn’t get a ton of time with the varsity, but he’s really gotten stronger, and his perimeter shooting has improved dramatically,” said Kowal.

The development isn’t limited to one side of the floor, however.

“If you watch him play defense, he’s such a smart defender, always in the right spot, taking charges and that type of thing,” Kowal said. “He’s just an extremely tough kid.”

On a team that has been starting two sophomores and two freshmen, Arenz has contributed as much as anyone to the cause. He also played well and scored 19 points when Onalaska beat Central, now ranked fifth in Division 2, earlier this season.

“Carson is a big energy giver,” Skifton said of his teammate. “We talk about energy givers and ‘zappers’ at practice, and he’s always upbeat, and we know we can give him the ball, and he’s able to score it whenever for us.”

With Skifton and Tyrell Stuttley (13.5 ppg) also capable of scoring whenever needed, Onalaska is showing it is capable of a deep tournament run when that time comes.

“We’ve kind of gone from the hunter to the hunted,” Kowal said following the Hilltoppers’ 65-61 win over Holmen on Jan. 26. “We have to be ready each and every night. We know it’s going to be a grind.”

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Assistant Sports Editor

Todd Sommerfeldt has covered sports for the La Crosse Tribune since 2003 after doing the same previously in the Fox Cities and Rock County.