While they didn’t achieve the storybook ending they’d hoped for, the 2016-17 Immanuel Lutheran eighth-grade boys basketball team goes down as one of the best in school history.
The Warriors finished their season 28-7 with the school’s first Indiana Lutheran Schools Athletic Association’s State Championship while also taking another Lutheran Invitational Tournament title.
At the end of March, the Warriors traveled to Valparaiso University for the Lutheran Basketball Association of America’s national tournament.
Following a 42-36 victory against Peace Lutheran (Saginaw, Michigan), the Warriors played St. Michael Lutheran of Fort Myers Florida.
At the buzzer, St. Michael’s — who went go on to become national champions — got a shot to fall to edge the Warriors 40-39.
In the consolation bracket, the Warriors picked up a 37-36 win against Christ Community Lutheran (Kirkwood, Missouri) and 40-25 win against Trinity Lutheran (Joppa, Maryland).
“They regrouped and won two games that next day,” Warriors coach Jim Hoffman said. “They fought back and wanted it worse after that. I think, growing up, that’s part of it. They didn’t let that set them back; they used it as motivation to get better.”
Falling to Divine Redeemer (Harland, Wisconsin) 52-31, the Warriors left the tournament with a top-10 finish.
“Their desire to get better was the big key for us,” Hoffman said. “Every one of them got better, and they played so well as a team. They were unselfish, doing the fundamentals like blocking out and cutting down turnovers. They had fun doing it, and I think that’s the most enjoyment I get.”
For Warriors player Tyler Goecker, playing with the best in the country outweighed the sting of defeat.
“It was nice to see different teams,” Goecker said. “I feel like we were at the same level as (other teams). I was looking to this moment for eight years. We finally hit our accomplishment to get to Valpo, but we just came up short.”
Like his teammates, Warriors player Jack Marksberry is using the loss as motivation.
“I’m going to use that first loss in the tournament as motivation to get better moving forward,” Marksberry said. “I will always remember how hard that loss was. It will push us to get better so we can come out on top in the future.”
The Warriors will lose six eighth-graders and return four current seventh-graders next season.
This year’s team was the first that included seventh-graders.
“This was our fist year we brought seventh-graders up with the need for bodies,” Hoffman said. “This is a small group (of eighth-graders) that lost two or three kids the past couple years to transfers. They fought through it and overcame it.”
Hoffman said that this year’s team will be remembered for years to come.
“LIT champs and the first state champs from Southern Indiana is a great accomplishment,” Hoffman said. “They will be able to come back with their kids one day and see the banners hanging up. They will be remembered as a class that played hard, carried themselves well and were respected. Most of the coaches I saw, that was one of the comments they made: how humble the kids were. That made it all worthwhile for us.”