Ben Vander Plas releases a shot against Xavier during his freshman season.
Ben Vander Plas releases a shot against Xavier during his freshman season.

   The Ripon High School boys’ basketball team will face a former foe Thursday, when it takes on Xavier in a state semifinal match-up at the Kohl Center in Madison.

   The two teams were members of the Eastern Valley Conference until last season, when the WIAA underwent a massive realignment.

   They also are both undefeated (26-0) entering the game, which is scheduled to tip off at 3:15 p.m.

   “They’re a great team,” Ripon senior forward Ben Vander Plas said. “Obviously, they haven’t lost yet. They used to be in the conference and they used to be a rival, so it should be a fun one.”

   Xavier’s head coach, Matt Klarner, agreed Sunday with Ben’s assessment during a WIAA Coaches Media Teleconference.

   “[We] had some tremendous epic encounters; some of the most fun games and most exciting games that I have ever been a part of as a coach,” Klarner said.

   He added both teams know how each other likes to play.

   While they have faced each other in the past, most recently twice in the 2014-15 season, plenty has changed since then.

   The Hawks, who have made the state tournament the past three seasons, have only one player (Hunter Plamann) who has ever played against the Tigers.

   “We graduated four senior starters who were, obviously, key contributors and big parts of back-to-back runner-up finishes and we’ve got some fresh faces and some new, fresh names,” Klarner said, adding the newcomers have stepped into their roles nicely.

   Ripon, meanwhile, has added Marshall Morrin and Melvin Lee to its lineup since the teams last competed, and lost Luke Loewe to transfer. Eddie Muench also has improved greatly since the last time the two teams have met.

   Klarner noted even without Loewe, Ripon is difficult to defend.

   “You look on paper and they’re as talented as any team in the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “You know these familiar names that have been multiple-year, all-state level players and, obviously, the addition of Lee gives them another piece that’s really quick and athletic at the point guard position.”

   Klarner added the Tigers also present challenges with their size as both Ben Vander Plas and Muench are several inches taller than anybody Xavier has to guard them.

Read the full story, which includes keys to beating Xavier, in the March 16, 2017 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.