KAUKAUNA, Wis. - The target has been squarely on the Galloping Ghosts' back all season. That doesn't change now that they head to Madison with the best teams in the state.
Through a tough Fox Valley Association as well as nonconference slate, Kaukauna has made it back to the boys state basketball tournament for the second time in three seasons.
Kaukauna (23-3) is the top seed in a competitive Division 2 state bracket, consisting of second-seeded La Crosse Central (24-2), third-seeded Milwaukee Washington (23-3) and fourth-seeded Westosha Central (20-4), all squads that "we have great respect for," coach Mike Schalow said at practice Wednesday.
Kaukauna will play No. 4 Westosha Central Friday afternoon for a spot in the D2 championship game.
"This Westosha team I think is playing very hungry and is a very dangerous team," Schalow said. "We've got our hands full, but we like our chances and we like the confidence of our group."
Standout Jordan McCabe said the Galloping Ghosts have gained that confidence as they embraced everyone's best shot this season, drawing inspiration from Steph Curry and Co.
"You look at the Warriors and every time they go on the floor, they have the biggest target on their back," the West Virginia commit said Wednesday. "Everybody's going to give them their best shot. And we talk about that all the time, as every single team that plays us wants to beat us more than anything, and that's fine with us. We do thrive off that a little bit, and we live for those teams that think they can come in and beat us."
"The last three years, people been looking to try and beat us," junior small forward Donovan Ivory said. "We're the team to beat, and we like it and thrive off it. I don't know, it just brings more motivation to win the game because you know, everybody's rooting against us, so it's real fun actually."
After winning the state crown in 2016, Schalow said leadership from seniors like McCabe and Eric Carl, who were part of that title team, will be "pivotal" this year in Madison.
"We've had a corps of players that were a part of our 2016 state championship team and they've been our leaders and the glue of this team to kind of help prepare us," Schalow said. "I think we've got some nice pieces of the puzzle who have come together really well here in the second half of the season to put ourselves in this position."
The depth on Kaukauna's bench should also serve it well in a weekend of playing back-to-back contests in order to claim the program's second state championship. Case in point: Ivory, who has earned a starting role with huge performances in the postseason.
"I think this team is certainly different in the fact that our bench is deeper than the 2016 team," Schalow said. "This team has been a little bit up and down, but I think (with) the depth of this team, we found different people on different nights able to contribute."
Kaukauna takes on fourth-seeded Westosha Central (20-4) Friday at 1:35 p.m. at the Kohl Center in Madison.