La Crosse AquinasBy Mark Miller
Rick Schneider knows exactly what his La Crosse Aquinas boys' basketball team will encounter when it squares off against Neenah at 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 27 in the second annual Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout at the Al McGuire Center on the campus of Marquette University.
"We know Neenah's conference (Fox Valley Association) plays very good basketball," said Schneider, in his third season as the head coach at Aquinas. "Neenah will be a very physical team. In order for us to win that game, we'll have to execute very well. We'll have to play strong defense and we'll have to rebound."
Though Aquinas is ranked No. 1 among WIAA Division 3 schools in the state by www.wishoops.net, the Blugolds might be considered, at least by some, a bit of an underdog against Neenah, a Division 1 school with more than 2,000 students.
The Rockets already own an impressive FVA victory over highly regarded Appleton East, and coach Chas Pronschinske's club came mighty close to ending Oshkosh West's 46-game league winning streak last Friday before falling, 50-48, in overtime.
"Our hope to is score a bit in transition against Neenah," Schneider said. "We've been working very, very hard on our transition game, and I'm hoping the bigger floor at the McGuire Center will work in our favor."
Another big trump card for Aquinas is the improved play of 6-foot-2 senior Scott Christopherson, a Marquette University recruit who has excelled on both ends of the court while leading the Blugolds to a 4-0 record heading into the Dec. 22 contest against La Crosse Logan.
Christopherson is averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game while also guarding the opponent's best perimeter player.
"Scott is becoming a very complete player," Schneider said. "He locked up Lukas Holland when we beat La Crosse Central, and he forced turnovers on the first three possessions of the second half in our win at Holmen last Friday.
"Scott's defense, compared to last year, has improved tremendously. He is putting on tremendous ball pressure against our opponents."
Always known as a capable offensive player, Christopherson broke out of a mini shooting slump with a game-high 28 points in the 64-45 victory over Holmen.
"Scott is making very good decisions on the offensive end of the floor," Schneider said. "Even when his shots aren't falling, he's taking good shots. He's more efficient on offense than a year ago."
Aquinas' senior-dominated lineup also includes forwards Ryan Fahey and Steve Papke.
Though the 6-5 Fahey has struggled in the early going, he is a streaky perimeter shooter capable of having a big night from three-point range, while the 6-4 Papke is the Blugolds' best interior defender.
"Ryan has struggled a bit with his shot, but he'll come around and is capable of having some big offensive games," Schneider said. "Papke scored 14 against Holmen and appears to be getting back into the flow of our offense after missing two weeks with a back injury."
Junior Lucas Morrissey (6-3) is one of the most versatile players in the Aquinas program. Morrissey can play along the baseline or run the team from the point-guard position.
"Lucas is a very, very solid player," Schneider said. "He's a good defender, he's the best passer on our team and he's a good rebounder."
Aquinas welcomed back a former player in the game against Holmen as 6-2 senior Tristan Charles was cleared to play by the WIAA after moving back to La Crosse from Boston. Charles started as a sophomore at Aquinas before moving to Boston for his junior year.
"Tristan is a great defensive player," Schneider said. "He talks a lot when he's away from the ball so he's a great weak-side defender. He's also a great on-the-ball defender. He gets his hands on a lot of passes."
Seniors Bobby Reinhart (6-0) and Luke Umberger (6-0) along with junior Zach Rickaway (6-2) also receive considerable playing time for Aquinas, which went 20-3 a year ago.
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Mark Miller is the editor of the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook, the editor of Wishoops and also the director of the WBY Shootout. For more from Mark Miller, please visit www.WBBY.com and www.Wishoops.net .