By Reagan Hoverman
The River Falls High School boys basketball team has had significant success over the last several years and this year is no different, despite returning only one starter from the team last season that made it to the state tournament.
In this winter sports preview, RFHS head coach Zac Campbell spoke about his roster, his coaching staff, goals for the season, and a whole host of other topics that relate to the 2021-22 season for his boys basketball team. Campbell started by talking about the roster for this season.
“We have a senior-heavy group that doesn’t have a lot of varsity experience,” Campbell said. “We have a group with a ton of heart that plays extremely hard. While we are continuing to form our identity through the first month, we have seniors growing in their leadership while adapting to the speed and physicality of the varsity game, while also including a couple of sophomores and a freshman into our team identity.”
Team identity is something that Campbell has spoken at length about. Especially in the opening games of the season, he said that this specific iteration of his team is figuring out where they fit in and what their roles are going to be. While some roles are still being figured out, some were solidified as soon as the season began. Campbell spoke about senior Michael Schurman’s role on the roster.
“We return one starter in Michael Schurman who is vital to our success,” Campbell said. “Michael (Schurman) is our point guard and one of the best defensive players I’ve had the opportunity to coach. On top of that, he is one of our best rebounders. He does so many things that don’t get reflected in the stats sheet that leads to team success.”
Through the first month of the basketball season, Schurman has been the driving force in the Wildcats’ success. Schurman scores 10 points per game and is currently third on the team in points per game. He also leads the team in assists per game with 4.6. Campbell has stated multiple times this season that regardless of position, Schurman always guards the opponent’s best player.
Of course, Schurman will be critical to team success this season, but so will other players, some of which provided valuable bench minutes in the deep playoff run last season, including versatile post player Ethan Campbell.
“We also return Ethan Campbell and Jacob Landgraf, who received minutes off of the bench for us last year,” Zac Campbell said. “Ethan (Campbell) is our athletic big who can stretch the floor while defending both interior and perimeter positions. Jacob (Landgraf) is one of our best scoring guards and has the ability to stretch the defense through his ability to shoot the basketball. While these are our three returning players from last year, we have a lot of boys who have worked hard through the offseason to allow us to have a true team identity in fulfilling roles.”
As earlier mentioned, there were questions coming into the season as to what this RFHS boys basketball team would look like. It’s rare to graduate four starting basketball players at the high school level. Because of that, there are a lot of seniors on the 2021-22 roster that haven’t had a lot of playing experience. Zac Campbell spoke about how those circumstances change expectations for the opening months of the season.
“For November and December, it’s important that we grow stronger in our team identity while attempting to win as many games during that time,” Zac Campbell said. “We will have a much clearer view of our goals a month from now, but we feel we can play with any team in our conference if we play together and each individual works to be great in their role.”
Last season, River Falls finished the season with a 21-3 record, which included a sectional championship and an appearance in the WIAA Division 1 State Semi-Final game against Wauwatosa East, a game that River Falls lost 56-48. Wauwatosa East went on to win the state title the following day, which was a 62-44 victory against Kimberly. Zac Campbell talked about last season, both overall and also how COVID-19 made its presence felt on the season.
“We finished 21-3 last season and were Big Rivers Conference and Sectional Champions,” Zac Campbell said. “We had a senior- heavy group of leaders who were fully committed to giving us the best chance to play through COVID and we didn’t have any issues as a team throughout the season. The biggest effect that COVID had on our program was the cohesiveness that we work so hard to form bonds and connect with our youth and community were not available. In turn, we have worked extremely hard this offseason and early season to regain those relationships and give back to those who helped these athletes get to this point in their lives.”
Zac Campbell also had a chance to speak about his coaching staff. He spoke very highly of his entire staff and was quick to give them credit for building a program that has become a perennial powerhouse in western Wisconsin.
“I’m grateful and blessed to have a committed group of coaches who do more behind the scenes than anyone would know,” Zac Campbell said. “Zach Turpin and I work hand-inhand at the varsity level. We work together year-round to help group our program and make decisions together for the best interest of our program. Derrick Hackel is our JV coach who takes care of so much behind the scenes that allows all of our levels to be more efficient and productive with their time on the court. Tommy Thompson, Macguire Flood, Nick Roy, Eric Peters and Brian Wickboldt are all members of our staff that play a vital role in allowing our program to be the best we can be. I’m thankful to have all of their leadership skills on our staff.”
With a roster of players that have limited varsity experience, River Falls has remained dominant through the first seven games of the 2021-22 season, accumulating six wins while suffering only one loss. In the lone loss, River Falls was without the aforementioned senior star, Schurman, who was out with an illness.
The hot start for the Wildcats has them in a position to compete for a second consecutive Big River Conference championship. As of Monday, Dec. 27, River Falls is in second place in the BRC standings with a 3-1 record in conference play. They trail only Eau Claire Memorial, who is 4-0 in conference action. The next game for River Falls is on Tuesday, Dec. 28, as they travel to Menomonie for the annual Menomonie Showcase. The first game is at 12:30 p.m. against Tomah.