Chippewa County only has one prep boys basketball team left in the playoff field at this point. That’s not the full extent of the area’s influence on the Wisconsin high school basketball landscape though.
While the McDonell boys square off with Rib Lake in the Division 5 sectional semifinals on Thursday, a former Mack will be leading his team from the bench in the Division 4 sectional semis.
McDonell graduate Adam Jacobson is the head boys coach at Marathon. The Red Raiders (20-4), ranked No. 10 in Division 4 in the final AP poll of the season, are a No. 2 seed in their half of the sectional, and will play top-seeded Auburndale on Thursday for a place in the sectional finals.
In seven years with Jacobson at the helm, Marathon has won at least 16 games every season and has not come close to having a losing or .500 season. The Red Raiders reached the Division 4 sectional finals in the 2015-16 season, falling one game short of the state tournament.
“You definitely need to be passionate about it (coaching). It’s a big commitment,” Jacobson said. “You have to put a lot of time into it and be committed. It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach the game you love. If you love to be around the sport and had a wonderful experience with it, (coaching) allows you to share that experience with others.”
Jacobson, who graduated from McDonell in 2002 and went on to play college basketball at Viterbo University, isn’t the only area coach who’s guiding one of the top programs in the state. Chi-Hi alumnus Jeff Boos is the head coach at Sun Prairie. The Cardinals (23-1) were ranked No. 2 in Division 1 in the final AP poll, and are set to face Madison La Follette in the sectional semis on Thursday.
Boos, a member of Chi-Hi’s Class of 1978, has led Sun Prairie to a No. 1 seed in the playoffs in three straight seasons including this year. He was recognized as the Big Eight Conference coach of the year this winter.
His program has found consistent success as of late, and he’s coaching one of the best Class of 2020 recruits in the nation: Jalen Johnson. The sophomore is widely considered a five-star prospect, and is currently rated by ESPN as the seventh-best player in his grade across the country.
The Cardinals are still seeking their first-ever berth to the state tournament, but they’ve been knocking on the door with their recent run of success. The closest they’ve come in the last three years was the sectional semifinals in 2016.
Maintaining a tradition
In high school sports, where there is typically a lot of roster turnover from year to year, maintaining a culture of success isn’t easy.
It takes a lot of dedication from the kids, and the work ethic to match the desire of reaching the top year in, year out.
“I think it starts with the kids,” Jacobson said. “There’s tremendous buy-in from the youth program (at Marathon). Throughout the summer program, our kids invest in the weight room, in plyometrics, summer leagues, open gyms. They just love to play.”
That kind of dedication often pours over into other sports, too.
“We’re fortunate at a small school like Marathon to have a lot of multi-sport athletes. The football team has success and that leads into the winter, and the winter teams have success, that leads into the spring,” Jacobson said. “We just have a lot of multi-sport athletes that are committed, are driven.
“They want to work hard and be that next team that’s going to have great success in whatever sport they’re in.”
Keeping in contact
Jacobson is certainly no stranger to the McDonell program. Macks head coach Archie Sherbinow was his physical education teacher in school, and his brother Mitch is an assistant coach for McDonell.
That connection has materialized on the court in recent years. The Red Raiders have played the Macks in nonconference play in each of the last three seasons, with Marathon winning all three contests.
“I’m very close with those guys. There’s a very strong relationship and rapport with each other,” Jacobson said. “I’m very thankful for the education I received at McDonell, and the teachers and coaches I had that influenced me along the way and helped mold me into the person I am.”
The first two matchups between the two teams were five and seven-point victories for Marathon, respectively. The Red Raiders won 82-61 this season.
Boos hasn’t been a stranger to his alma mater’s program, either. Sun Prairie and Chi-Hi played a home-and-away series recently, with Chi-Hi hosting in 2015 and Sun Prairie hosting in 2016. Boos and his Cardinals won both of those games.
The boys basketball state tournament is next week at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Division 4 semifinals will be played Thursday, and the Division 1 semifinals follow on Friday.