De Pere & Brillion cap historic seasons with state titles

WATCH: De Pere & Brillion cap historic seasons with state titles
Published: Mar. 19, 2023 at 10:12 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Before the bright lights and the big stadium, the best completion was on the driveway.

Long before the big lights in the big stadium, it all starts on the drive way.

That’s the case for the Kinziger family.

“We battle out there hard. Sometimes our mom does not like that when we go in, when someone goes in and slams the front door, and she knows something’s wrong. It’s always fun, but we definitely pushed each other to be the best we can,” said John Kinziger.

Going head-to-head in that friendly competition at home helped push John to become one of the best players in the state. The De Pere senior was named co-Mr. Basketball by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association this week.

A few days later, he, along with younger brother Zach, took the floor at the Kohl Center in De Pere’s first trip to state since 2011.

“I’m going to miss that as it’s slowly going away. You know, working out with John and Jake because that’s been special to me, and getting me better every single day. Because I’ve been tagging along with these guys ever since I was in the second grad,” said Zach KInziger.

The Kinzigers are part of a close knit group  of Redbirds that worked their way through De Pere’s youth program dating back to when they were in elementary school.

“All these kids grew up playing together. That’s so unique. I’ve had kids transfer in and whatever, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but to get it done with a homegrown team if you will that played in your booster club it’s amazing,” said head coach Brian Winchester.

The current group of Redbirds were in elementary school the last time De Pere made it to the Kohl Center in 2011. Following in the footsteps of a group that came up just short of the program’s first title since 1934. This year would be different. De Pere finishing the job against Arrowhead in the state title game on Saturday night.

“An incredible job by these two guys and the rest of our team dealing with that pressure. It’s challenging. You feel it, whether you want to admit to it or not. We want to win a state championship, and I think any coach that says you don’t feel that a little bit has got to be lying. Because I felt it today, and I’ve been in this situation before in ‘11 but thes guys responded. A ton of confidence in them. Can’t say enough about our team today,” said Winchester.

Entering the weekend just five teams division one finished the season undefeated since 2000. De Pere is now the sixth, but the first to finish with 30 wins and a state title.

“You feel that pressure, and the only way not to feel that pressure is by taking it game by game. This whole year, we wanted to stay in the present. We wanted to go one game at a time, and that’s how we got to 30-0,” said John Kinziger.

“We were obviously trying to take things slow from the start of the season, but to actually accomplish 30-0 is something special. It was fun out there. Last time playing with this group and to finish off 30-0 state championship is really special,” said Zach Kinziger.

Brillion’s wait for their next state championship was much shorter, just 11 years after their last title in 2011. The journey back to the top of the mountain actually started 366 days earlier with their loss to West Salem. The very team the Lions defeated on Saturday for the gold ball, and the team that showed Brillion what it takes to win the big game.

“We got beat up in that game last year, and we knew what type of team they had. We knew if we were going to get this point we were going to have to beat somebody very similar to West Salem. Every one of our guys improved, worked in the offseason and stayed humble. I think it’s a good lesson for other young players that you’ve got to continue to get better,” said head coach Chad Shimek.

The division three state title game would be another tough test for the Lions. Star Jeremy Lorenz finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds in the win, but had to play through the pain after suffering an ankle injury in the second half. Still he was able to return to the court and hit clutch free throws to seal the win.

“This program the last four years has done a lot for me. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been up and down. I mean, we didn’t win many games my freshman year. I think going out there tonight, I knew I wasn’t going to let anything out on the floor. That’s why when I went down with that ankle injury, I couldn’t walk but I was getting back out there,” said Jeremy Lorenz.

Being physically tough is one thing, though. Being mentally tough in a tight game is another thing. Winning a state title requires both.

“Just confidence is the key. I know I was confident going to the line that I would knock down those free throws. I know Jeremy was confident, and I know our team was confident in our abilities. I think that mentality, we can all lean back on each other, and that helped us,” said Bennett Olson.

“It’s a physical game. They let us play. So, we just had to continue to be strong, make the simple passes, and hit free throws. You see a lot of basketball games those aren’t always easy things to do. So, I thought our guys did a really good job stepping up in that moment,” said Shimek.

In the end Brillion bringing home gold once again, but not just for themselves.

“We’re a small little town. Just over three thousand people, but it’s really the whole community behind us this whole playoff run, really this whole season. For us it makes it easy on us to go out there and play, and play hard for them. It means just as much for them as it does for us,” said Lorenz.

“We’re a small school, a small town. Everybody knows everybody. They see everything we do, so we try to keep great character up at all times. It’s just a small town, big heart type of thing you see when you get to Brillion,” said Olson.