BANGOR — As the members of the Bangor High School boys basketball team raised the gold ball toward the Kohl Center rafters following the WIAA Division 5 state championship game on March 17, Jordan Laufenberg was a happy man.
Happy that the heartbreaking ends of seasons past had been mostly eased, happy that the Cardinals had been able to maintain their stellar level of play after a state championship football run, and most of all, happy that the hard work of players and coaches alike had ultimately paid off.
“Our kids worked so hard from last season to this season,” said Laufenberg, who wrapped up his 11th season as Bangor’s coach by guiding the Cardinals to a 27-1 record, and their first boys basketball state title in their first state tournament appearance since 1936.
“For them to be able to win that final game, and for the seniors, the final game of their career, not a lot of kids get to do that.”
That state title wrapped up a four-year run in which Bangor compiled a 96-10 record, and played a big part into why Laufenberg was named the La Crosse Tribune’s Boys Basketball Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
“We’ve had deep playoff runs the past three or four years, and he’s been pretty much the same every year,” Cardinals senior Luke Reader said. “This year, he was definitely locked in. He probably watched eight hours of film a day. He wanted to do everything he could to help us win.”
Bangor won, and won convincingly in Madison, with a 42-point win in the state semifinal and a 91-67 win over Chippewa Falls McDonell Catholic Central in the championship.
Whether or not Reader was accurate with the amount of time Laufenberg spent breaking down opponent’s film, the point remains the same: the Cardinals had a coach willing to pour his heart and soul into getting his team over the hump. And he did.
Bangor saw its season come to an end in sectional final games two seasons in a row in heartbreaking fashion. The 2016 campaign ended with a 57-55 loss to Barneveld, while last season’s heartbreak was a 60-58 loss to Shullsburg, thanks to a buzzer-beating shot.
In a town as passionate about its sports teams as Bangor, those two losses were topics that Laufenberg became pretty good at deflecting.
“They definitely were in the back of his mind,” Reader said of the games that ended his sophomore and junior seasons. “So many people would always bring it up. It happened quite a bit. He just kind of got sick of it.”
Laufenberg said that the character and the unselfishness of the players allowed this particular team to finally complete its mission.
“It didn’t matter the age of the kids, we just had to find what the defense was allowing,” Laufenberg said. “That’s something that we tried to instill. It doesn’t matter who is in what position, we want to execute to the best of our ability with the same common goal.”
Reader pointed to a switch in the offensive focus, from the guard-oriented attack he led alongside fellow seniors Drew Johnson and Caleb Miedema, to a offense that showcased the abilities of the “beast” that was sophomore Grant Manke.
While teams still focused in on the perimeter, Manke was able to score 18 points and grab 13 rebounds in the state semifinal, followed by a 19-point, 13-rebound effort in the state championship.
“It kind of came on more middle of the season, and that definitely helped us down the stretch,” Reader said of the shift in offensive focus. “We kind of worked our offense around him because teams couldn’t stop him.”
Deferring to a sophomore after years of being the go-to players could have caused a rift among some teams, but Laufenberg said that his 10 seniors helped make things as easy as possible.
“Some people have a hard time accepting that, or they’re not willing other kids to get to the spotlight, because they are selfish players,” Laufenberg said. “These kids just are not that way.”
Without having to worry about egos, the Laufenberg could simply focus on the X’s and O’s.
“I was always trying to find some kind of breakdown in what the other team does, because there is always something to exploit, whether it’s offense or defense,” Laufenberg said. “We wanted to keep our heads on that task, keep minds focused on the process of what we were trying to do, even into the last game.”
Bangor did just that, and thanks in part to Laufenberg and his staff, has the memories of a highly successful state tournament run and a trophy that will reside in the hallways at Bangor High School forever.
“We talked at begin of season, on how we wanted that to be our goal,” Laufenberg said of the state tournament. “In no way was I going to be happy with just getting there, because we wanted to finish this thing out.
“Turns out, they weren’t done.”