BELOIT—The Beloit Turner boys basketball team will never know just how close they were to achieving their ultimate goal of earning the program’s first trip to the WIAA State Tournament.
The Trojans were denied the opportunity to play in the Division 3 sectional semifinal, which was scheduled to take place Saturday night, because the rest of the tournament was canceled due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus.
Turner would’ve taken on Waupun, a team that was in stark contrast to Martin Luther, the super-squad that took care of the Trojans in last season’s sectional final.
That Martin Luther squad went on to win the state title over, coincidentally, Waupun, which finished last season with a 26-1 record.
Waupun lost Southern Illinois recruit Marcus Domask and all five starters, plus the top contributor off its bench. Though the Warriors were obviously good enough to advance to the sectional championship, their overall record of 17-8 and tight win over Columbus in the sectional semis certainly didn’t indicate any dominant traits.
Turner was in a considerably different circumstance. The Trojans were loaded with seniors, some of whom had been four-year varsity players. They were playing their best ball of the season and, despite the loss of third-leading scorer Kenny Draeving to a knee injury, looked primed and ready to stake a spot at the Kohl Center.
Trojans coach Ken Watkins was ecstatic for his team following a convincing win over Edgerton in the semifinals. It would take only two hours for his mood to change considerably.
That’s when he got word that the Trojans’ season was over.
“When we got back home and were looking on Twitter and seeing all the cancellations, it seemed inevitable,” Watkins said. “I was about 85 percent sure we weren’t going to play on that Saturday, and even if we did, I thought there was no way they would play the state tournament. Even had we played in front of no crowd, with the knowledge that it was going to be the last game, I would’ve absolutely have loved to play Waupun. It would’ve provided some closure for the kids, too.”
Due to the strength of his team and the luck of the draw, Watkins had long been thinking about his team’s chance to break through.
“When I saw last spring what region we were in, I felt like we had hit the jackpot. With Racine St. Catherine’s, St. John’s and East Troy all on the other side of the bracket, I knew the road would be pretty good for us. Obviously whenever you get into the sectional, you’re going to have to play some good teams, but we felt like we had a great chance to get there.”
It didn’t take long for the phone calls to start coming through.
“DJ Wash was my first call, and that was the toughest one,” Watkins said. “The thing about the way that it ended was that it was just so abrupt. It always feels that way right after you lose a playoff game, but this was different, just with the circumstances. There was just a lot of sadness.”
Watkins met with the full team Friday morning before school.
“They all came in at 7 a.m. and we talked for about 30 minutes,” Watkins said. “It wasn’t emotional, it was just really quiet. Those guys had all found out the night before, so there was time to digest it a little bit. But none of them wanted to stay for school that day, and I didn’t make any of them do it.”
The Trojans finished their season with 21 wins, four losses, a scrapbook full of memories and one giant what-if.
“This was a special group of seniors,” Watkins said. “It’s not often that you have 10 of them from the same class stick together. It was the hardest-working group we’ve ever had, and the results they achieved on the floor were a direct result of that.”