When St. Norbert tips off at Cornell in their final Midwest Conference game of the regular season this Saturday, more than just a third straight unbeaten run through the league will be at stake.
With a win, the BR-16 Green Knights can claim the all-time D3 record for consecutive wins against conference opponents school with what would be their 62nd straight victory in the league. The last time anyone beat St. Norbert in the conference was back in 2009, when Grinnell did it in overtime.
Coach Gary Grzesk says the overall record may be something to appreciate later, but right now, he's trying to get the Knights ready for post-season play and a run in the NCAA tournament.
"The current season, and what these guys are going through right now, is the most important thing," said Grzesk.
St. Norbert matched the consecutive conference win record last weekend with an 83-47 win over Knox that tied the 61 straight wins Wheaton put up in the College Conference of Illinois back when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
The win over Knox also improved St. Norbert's record to an impressive 20-2 and overall, in addition to being 17-0 in MWC play.
One of the keys to the success of this particular team came last summer, Grzesk said, far from the school's De Pere, Wisc. campus. It was on a training trip to Spain, where the Knights, some of them new to the program, got a feel for playing with a new group.
"It was a great bonding experience," Grzesk said of the trip.
But there was another benefit.
"It also gave us 10 extra practices," he noted. "That helped us evaluate our guys a little bit. And being a younger group that definitely helped."
Grzesk said early, difficult victories also instilled confidence in the team that has only grown as the team has continued to win.
Close wins over Monmouth, Ripon and Lake Forest early in the year, made the players believe they could avoid a let-down after two straight undefeated runs through the league.
"That kind of fed their confidence early on," Grzesk said.
It also helped the team play through adversity – having to play several games without forward Mitch Reinthaler and key reserve Dakota Oskey, who missed games with injuries.
Sophomore guard D.J. DeValk leads St. Norbert in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Junior guard Ben Bobinski adds 11.8 points per game, while sophomore Reinthaler is contributing 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
The Green Knights are now healthy, which could mean it's an even better team that enters the four-team MWC tournament.
Grzesk said if the team wins the conference tournament, it will be that, not the unbeaten regular season run, that defines the team.
"This is why you play – to play in the post season," said Grzesk, who while playing college ball at Wisconsin-Green Bay once had to guard Jason Kidd during an NCAA tournament game. "This is an exciting time of the year." Grzesk's Green Bay Phoenix team won that 1994 game over Kidd's California Bears.
"The winning streak is nothing we've ever brought up – though I'm sure they're aware of it," Grzesk said. "But right now, you concentrate on the process and have a chance to reflect later."
After the final regular season game, St. Norbert will play its first MWC game on Friday Feb. 26 at home against Lake Forest College. The winner will play either Carroll or Ripon in the championship the next day.