Scott Venci column: Perennially strong De Pere aims to finish on top

7:45 AM, Jan. 4, 2013  |  Comments

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Losses have a way of sticking with a coach forever. Sometimes even more than wins.

That's probably why De Pere coach Brian Winchester still wakes up some mornings thinking about Madison Memorial guard Brendan Ortiz hitting a game-tying 3-pointer with 2 seconds remaining in regulation against De Pere in the WIAA Division 1 state championship game in 2011.

He sometimes wakes up thinking about Ortiz hitting a bank shot with 2.1 seconds remaining in the third overtime to rip away the Redbirds' chance at a championship and rip out their hearts.

"It is what it is, though," Winchester said. "That's part of sports. If you can't deal with that kind of stuff, then you probably shouldn't be coaching. You probably shouldn't be playing."

Winchester and his Redbirds still are looking for their first title since 1934. They are one half of an impressive basketball factory at De Pere, with the defending state champion girls team off to another hot start after not losing a game in all of 2012.

Winchester has helped De Pere establish itself as one of the elite teams in the state since taking over in 2007.

The Redbirds have gone an astounding 72-7 the last three seasons, have won or shared the Fox River Classic Conference championship each of those years and have that one title game appearance.

This season has been no different. After losing a season opener to Appleton West, the Redbirds have won eight straight and are ranked No. 6 in the state in Division 1.

If they needed any extra confidence, they got a shot of it last week during the Shawano Sun Drop Shootout at the Kress Events Center.

De Pere took out then-No. 3-ranked Milwaukee Vincent 83-76, handing Vincent its first loss of the season. The next night, the Redbirds came back from 12 points down to beat Appleton East 47-45.

"It was an important win for us," Winchester said about Vincent. "I think the kids really felt like we could and should win the game going into that. I don't think we had any confidence issues that we weren't going to win the game. But it proves it to you that you can go and get it done against one of the best teams in the state.

"We would like to think we are right there with everybody else, and it's about winning those games. We did, and it was good for us."

De Pere has been getting it done these past few years with different faces leading the way. Star players graduate, but the one constant has been that new ones always emerge.

The question of how to replace Brandon Pritzl after 2010 was answered with Chris Kading and Reece Zoelle. They were followed by Brett VandenBergh and Jordan Poydras, who have been followed this season by another talented crop of players.

De Pere will lose seniors such as Adam Beyer, Kaden Coleman and Spencer Mocarski after this season, but sophomore Brevin Pritzl will help lead the next wave.

The feeder system is churning out and developing good players at an impressive rate. Premium talent is difficult to project, but there appears to be a solid base to work with to keep success high. From third grade to seniors in high school, there are somewhere in the range of 400 kids playing basketball in De Pere.

The Redbirds have the conference championships and 20-win seasons down. It's about finding a way to close the deal, whether it's against Memorial in the title game or last season against Germantown for the right to advance to the Final Four in D1.

If they keep doing what they are doing, the odds are in their favor that a championship will come. That certainly is the main focus now.

"When it comes down to it, that's it right there," Winchester said. "We are going to enjoy the process, but ultimately we are striving to put ourselves in the best position to be able to do that. When you really try to do that, the rest of it takes care of itself along the way."

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