From left to right: PJ Rinzel, Daniel Regent-Smith, Coach Bobby Regent-Smith, Charlie Bliemehl, Ty Meulemans, Emmett Munson, Cameron Wentworth, Giuseppe Cutraro, Coach Phil Rinzel (back), Justin Nygaard, Jack Olszewski, Zac Meulemans, Coach Brandon Kirchoff

By Heather McCabe

The St. Mary’s eighth grade boys basketball team made history by winning the Padre Serra tournament title after a 50-36 win against Waukesha Catholic at Dominican High School on Sunday, March 24. It was the first championship earned by a boys team at the school.

The win was the culmination of an impressive season for the team, entering this tournament with a 29-0 season record and four other first place tournament honors under their belt. Those tournaments include the St. John Vianney tournament, the St. Mary home tournament, the Holy Angels tournament in West Bend, and the St. Rita tournament in Racine.

“Beyond winning the Padre and having the greatest year in St. Mary boys basketball history, we saw friendships form and relationships cemented between longtime and new teammates,” said Brandon Kirchoff, one of the team’s coaches. “It was a great thing to see.”

While no one could have predicted the eighth grade team’s history-making win, there were early signs that the team had promise.

“[When the boys were] in sixth grade, Shaun and I coached one of the teams. We knew we had a great group of basketball players,” said Terri Meulemans, parent of Zac and Ty Meulemans.  “We knew their talent had a lot of potential, and we didn’t feel qualified to coach them in seventh grade. We felt lucky when Brandon [Kirchoff] agreed to take them on. With his coaching experience, we saw that success come to fruition.” 

In seventh grade, the team practiced each week with the eighth grade boys. “That experience helped them toughen up and be resilient,” Meulemans said. “The seventh grade boys actually subbed in during our St. Mary’s eighth-grade A boys home basketball tournament and rattled some talented eighth grade teams. That solidified that we had a good chance [this year] for the Padre if we could keep it together.”

And “keep it together” they did. When asked what has helped keep their team so strong and focused, center Ty Meulemans said. “Coach Brandon did a lot to bring us together as a team and helped us to gel and achieve the accomplishments that we did.” 

Forward PJ Rinzel added that each player showed dedication to the team. “We all made sure to get to practice and games, which made it easier to build bonds with teammates,” Rinzel said, adding that their objective at the beginning of the year was to win the Padre tournament. “We talked about it regularly, which helped motivate us to work hard in every practice and game to meet this goal.”

The Padre Serra Tournament, which started in 1959, is one of the “longest running invitational basketball tournaments in the area,” according to its website. It features the “very best 8th grade girls and boys teams from throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

The St. Mary girls basketball team earned a Padre Serra tournament title in 2000, which is proudly displayed on a banner in the St. Mary Activity Center. Now, having made St. Mary history, the boys team is excited to add their own banner to the wall.

“It’s pretty special to have the opportunity to win this tournament and have our names up there in the gym on that banner as a symbol of our accomplishments!” said Ty Meulemans. “Thank you for cheering loud and helping us make history. We couldn’t have done it without the support of our parents and classmates – you all brought the energy!” 

The most exciting part of the entire experience for guard Jack Olszewski was seeing “all our family and friends sitting in the stands cheering us on!”

Kirchoff thanked everyone who supported the team throughout the year. “Although at times we were outnumbered, those that turned up outmatched schools with larger numbers,” he said.

“They were consistently rooted against by the other teams [throughout the tournament],” Terrie Meulemans added. “I think it carried them in the final game when they felt positive support from the St. Mary side. It’s truly an experience for the younger kids to watch the final Padre games.”

Kirchoff agreed. “These eighth graders are truly role models,” he said. “I saw it up close with my fifth-grade son, Myles, who wanted to be a part of the journey as much as possible.”

But having a successful team is more than just making free-throw shots or catching rebounds. Relationships are critical. “Make friendships with your teammates,” said Ty Meulemans. “The relationships that you have with your teammates are undervalued when you look at what makes a good team. There are a lot of teams with good players, but they don’t have good relationships with each other, so they aren’t as successful.” 

Guard Daniel Regent-Smith added, “In the game of basketball, everyone is going to make mistakes, but moving on from those and continuing to give your team 100% is key.”

Center Zac Meulemans said he and the team are “really proud and excited” to have won this title for St. Mary, and they hope this win will inspire young athletes and teams that follow.

“I am beyond excited for this team and this history-making moment!” said Linda Joyner, principal at St. Mary Parish School. “I am also extremely proud of the exceptional sportsmanship displayed by both our team members and devoted fans during the tournament. They represented our school and our faith community very well!”

The St. Mary’s Menomonee Falls team was coached by Brandon Kirchoff, Bobby Regent-Smith and Phil Rinzel. Players on the team are PJ Rinzel, Daniel Regent-Smith, Charlie Bliemehl, Ty Meulemans, Emmett Munson, Cameron Wentworth, Giuseppe Cutraro, Justin Nygaard, Jack Olszewski and Zac Meulemans.