The start to the season could have been rough for the Bloomer boys basketball team.
With a new coach at the helm and two of the top players in the area moving away before the school year, a period of adjustment to some serious changes would have been understandable.
As it turns out, the Blackhawks have been just fine.
Bloomer is an unbeaten 7-0 to start the season with a new look, both from the coach and the lineup. Greg Van Grunsven — formerly a coach at Eau Claire Memorial — took over as coach for Luke Madsen, who moved to Rochester, Minnesota to coach Rochester Mayo and teach in the school district. Madsen’s sons, Gabe and Mason, both went with him. They were integral parts of Bloomer’s team a year ago, averaging 18 points per game each.
How have the Blackhawks overcome the unexpected changes to get off to a unbeaten start? Van Grunsven gives a lot of credit to the players’ familiarity with each other and their attitude on the court.
“This is a group of kids that we have this year that have played together for a number of years. They’re very unselfish, I think that’s the first thing that stands out when you watch the team play,” he said after the team’s win over Altoona on Friday.
Despite the loss of the Madsens, the cupboard was far from bare. Payton Dachel returned after averaging 16 points per contest last year, and became Bloomer’s all-time leading scorer on Dec. 22. Guards Caleb Ruf and Aaron Price and forward Bradley Sarauer returned with experience as well.
The Blackhawks have functioned as a squad that doesn’t rely on one source of scoring. That has helped them find ways to replace the Madsens’ scoring, and it was on full display against Altoona, when four different players scored in double figures.
Johnny Bleskacek and Dachel have emerged as an inside-out threat, with Bleskacek routinely knocking down 3-pointers and Dachel battering opponents in the paint.
“Johnny has an awful lot of basketball skills, and he’s going to stand out on the floor when he’s making shots,” Van Grunsven said. “Payton, his career speaks for itself. But there’s some other guys that are capable of scoring some big numbers, too.”
Bloomer enters play this week with four players (Dachel, Bleskacek, Sarauer, Masen Miller) averaging at least 7.9 points per game.
The Blackhawks have benefited from an ability to slow down the game and break down opponents’ defenses with patience and vision. They found success against Altoona’s 1-3-1 zone on Friday by extending possessions to find an opening.
“They’re very good passers, they move the ball well,” Van Grunsven said about his team. “Our possessions got longer as the game (against Altoona) went on, and I think that played a role in us being successful.”
Bloomer also boasts a stout defense that has not allowed a team to score 55 points yet this season, and has held three teams to fewer than 35 points. In their second and third games of the season, the Blackhawks held Elk Mound and Ladysmith to 26 and 28 points, respectively.
The team will try to stay unbeaten in Heart O’North Conference play when it travels to Northwestern on Thursday. Bloomer faces Hayward, the only other undefeated team in Heart O’ North play, on Jan. 12.
The Blackhawks, Tigers and Hurricanes shared the league title a season ago.
Eau Claire Regis at McDonell girls basketball, Thursday, 7:15 p.m.
The Macks (7-2, 3-2) currently sit in a tie with Stanley-Boyd for third in the Western Cloverbelt, two games behind the perfect-in-league Ramblers. If the Macks want to remain in contention for a conference crown, they’ll need to win here or look for plenty of help in the second half of the season.
Hayward at Bloomer girls basketball, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
The Hurricanes (9-2, 6-0) and Blackhawks (6-2, 6-0) are tied for first in the Heart O’North Conference heading into Friday evening’s huge showdown. Hayward won in Bloomer last year (40-31) on the final night of the regular season to claim the outright conference crown. The two teams also meet on Feb. 16 in Hayward, that meeting also the regular season finale for both teams.
McDonell boys basketball at Altoona, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
A raucous start to the Western Cloverbelt Conference boys basketball season sees the new year start with a three-way tie atop the league with the Macks, Railroaders and Osseo-Fairchild. In a year where the conference champion will in all likelihood have multiple losses in league play, any wins against the top teams in the conference are all the more valuable.
Cadott wrestling invitational, Saturday, 9 a.m.
The Hornets host their annual invite this weekend, an event that will also including Cornell/Gilman, Thorp and many other area teams. With wrestling regionals a little more than a month away, grapplers are looking to find their stride in time with the postseason right around the corner.
Athletes of the Week
Boys: Johnny Bleskacek, Bloomer
Bleskacek led the Blackhawks boys basketball team in scoring in both games of last weekend’s Altoona holiday tournament. Bleskacek scored 14 points and had four 3-pointers in his team’s 62-53 overtime win over the host Railroaders on Friday before scoring 14 again in a 51-48 win over Medford on Saturday.
Girls: Haley Frank, Chippewa Falls/Menomonie
The goaltender had a pair of high-save performances for the Chi-Hi/Menomonie girls hockey team as it competed at a holiday tournament hosted by Eau Claire Area last week. Frank made 53 saves last Wednesday in her team’s 2-0 defeat to the Beaver Dam/Fond du Lac Warbirds and stopped 32 shots one day later in a 6-1 win over Appleton United.