APPLETON, Wis. (NBC 26) — Historically, Appleton North hasn't been thought of as a "boys basketball school," but this year's Lightning team has put the rest of the Fox Valley Association on notice.
North is off to a perfect 6-0 start, including a signature win over No. 3 Oshkosh North last Friday. The Lightning went on a 23-2 run in the second half and went on to beat the FVA favorites 71-63.
"I think it really showed the league that we can hang with anyone," sophomore guard Grant Hardy said.
"That's the kind of like the win that really put us as the team to beat," junior forward Abraham Tomori added.
Since the school's founding in 1995, Appleton North has never won a conference title in boys basketball.
Six years ago, head coach Chris Kellett took over a team that went win-less the year prior.
"It's hard to be patient," Kellett said. "(We knew) there would be some tough times but there's going to be some fun times too and we're finally getting to reap the benefits of our work."
You could argue the Lightning are ahead of schedule. Four of their top five scorers are sophomores. The other - Tomori - is a junior.
"We really don't like care about how old people are," Tomori said. "We're all together as friends and everybody is like 'We're going to make you get better, you're going to help me get better.' So it's really a family-type thing."
And that youth means this hot start is far from a flash in the pan.
"We get more years to play with each other," Hardy said. "We're playing well right now but that just tells us that we can play even better in the future."
The Lightning are enjoying the present, but still building for the future. And they are aiming high.
"Ultimately, we want to see as far as we can go," Tomori said. "I want to be playing at state."
"Eventually we want to make it to the Kohl Center," agreed Hardy. "Obviously with a young core that's what we're looking at next year, but we've got to focus on this year right now."
While his young team has arrived, Kellett knows there will still be growing pains.
"This league is so talented so we're going to have some downs as well," he said. "We're going to ride this wave as long as possible, keep competing and we go day by day.
"When guys buy in and only care about the outcome and support each other, then anything can happen."
After last Friday's win, Appleton North vaulted into the WisSports.net state rankings. The Lightning check in at No. 4 in Division 1.
North has another big game this Friday as it travels to Kimberly to take on the 4-2 Papermakers.