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Time to believe in the Ghosts? Kaukauna hoops finds a rhythm heading into March

Led by a dynamic duo down low, the Galloping Ghosts won eight of their final nine regular season games. Now, they'll look to make another deep run into the WIAA Tournament.
Posted at 5:19 PM, Feb 23, 2024

KAUKAUNA, Wis. (NBC 26) — There were ups and downs, but Kaukauna navigated through the gauntlet of the Fox Valley Association.

The Galloping Ghosts finished the regular season at 17-7 (12-6 in conference), and earned a No. 5 seed in the WIAA Division 1 Tournament.

  • Kaukauna won eight of its final nine regular season games. Prior to a loss Thursday night, they had won eight in a row.
  • They finished 3rd in the FVA, generally believed to be one of the top high school conferences in the state.
  • The Galloping Ghosts are led by a dynamic duo down low: 6'10" senior Jon O'Neill and 6'9" sophomore Andrew Jensen. Those two combine for 24.2 points and 21.3 rebounds per game.
  • The Galloping Ghosts have won two state championships in program history, in 2016 and '18. Those titles were in Division 2; this year, they are up a level in Division 1.

"Night in and night out, it's going to be a battle," Kaukauna head coach Mike Schalow said of the Ghosts' difficult regular season schedule. "(The FVA is) kind of like our version at the high school level of the Big Ten. Every night you’re going to get opponents best.”
They navigated the schedule and finished third in the conference, finally hitting their stride in February.

"I think we've really been playing well together," senior forward Jon O'Neill said.

"The chemistry of the team," senior guard Nathan Deprez added. "We've had a lot of good things going for us."

Kaukauna's 23-24 campaign was married by an early-season injury to All-Conference point guard Carson Awe, and a January slump when they lost four of five games.

“There’s always going to be frustration when you lose," Deprez said. "But it’s the adversity that this team has faced, that’s brought us together to win these last few games.”

Their dynamic duo down low doesn't hurt. The Galloping Ghosts are led by a 6'10" senior, Jon O'Neill, and 6'9" sophomore Andrew Jensen.

“It jumps out because you might get one big guy when you’re in high school," Schalow said. "To have two of them is really a luxury and we’re really blessed that way.”

“It’s a really special thing," O'Neill added. "I don’t think there’s any other teams that have the kind of bigs that we have.

"We’re both very good. We both work really hard," O'Neill said. "We’ve been close over the last couple years.”

Now - can they string together a few more wins in March?

“We certainly believe that this is a group that can do it,” Schalow said.

The veteran head coach has led the Galloping Ghosts to two state championships. Most recently in 2018, when this group of seniors was in sixth grade.

“I remember being here at the state championship parade and it was special,” O'Neill said.

“I got pictures with Coach Schalow when I was about (this) tall," Deprez said. "(Star players) Jordan McCabe, Adam Smith. All those guys.”

With the way they've been playing, it might be time to believe in this year's version of the Ghosts.

“We’re really confident to get back in the tournament and we want to show something,” Deprez said.

“If we can put it together, cut down turnovers a little bit and play well offensively I think we have a lot of potential to make a big, deep run in the playoffs,” O'Neill said.

The Galloping Ghosts are a No. 5 seed in the WIAA Tournament. They host No. 12 Wausau West Friday, March 1 in the regional semifinal round.