Local hoops team has special season

The Monticello Mavericks pose for a photo after being crowned champions in their division of the Special Olympics last month. Clockwise from back: Coach Bruce Malwitz, Benny Scherber, Coach Dale Dianoski, Aaron Johnson, Lynzie Hendricks, Nicole Demeules, Kyle Kauffman and Bradley Malwitz. (Photo contributed)

The Monticello Mavericks pose for a photo after being crowned champions in their division of the Special Olympics last month. Clockwise from back: Coach Bruce Malwitz, Benny Scherber, Coach Dale Dianoski, Aaron Johnson, Lynzie Hendricks, Nicole Demeules, Kyle Kauffman and Bradley Malwitz. (Photo contributed)

A championship of any kind takes an impressive combination of skill, desire and teamwork, amongst a host of other qualities.
But a championship for a group of kids that have played together for just one year, and most of whom have been involved with the sport for only slightly longer? That goes beyond impressive.
“Phenomenal,” is the word Bruce Malwitz uses to describe the team’s performance.
And he would know. Malwitz, along with Dale Dianoski, is a volunteer coach for the Monticello Mavericks Special Olympics basketball team. And in just their first year of competition, Malwitz and Dianoski helped lead a talented and determined group of boys and girls to become the Special Olympics State Champions.
The team was  made up of six players: Lynzie Hendricks (fifth grader from Monticello), Benny Scherber (seventh grader, Monticello), Nicole Demeules (Monticello), Kyle Kauffman (fifth grader, Hanover), Bradley Malwitz (fourth grader, Buffalo) and Aaron Johnson (seventh grader, Monticello).
They play 3 on 3 half court basketball, with games going up to 20 points. The Mavericks, who entered the year with very little basketball experience, gained some by playing  in one regular season tournament at Rogers, where they finished second. Their next tournament was Regions, held in Monticello.
They swept through their region earning a state tournament berth. At that tournament, held late in March, the kids went 2-0 in pool play, guaranteeing themselves a spot in the championship game.
In the championship they earned a rematch with the Purple Wave out of Apple Valley and surrounding areas. The Mavericks had defeated them in a close matchup in pool play and would need to do it one more time to become state champions.
For an ordinary team, that would be a tall task. But the Mavericks were up to the challenge. They battled fiercely throughout, keeping the game close down the stretch.
Then, with the score tied at 18, the Mavericks got an all-important defensive stop. Scherber pulled down the rebound. He set up the offense, passing it to a teammate to take a shot. That shot missed, but Scherber, the team’s center, was there. He grabbed the rebound and put it in.
20-18. Champions.
Coach Malwitz said that early in the year this kind of feat would have seemed unachievable. But as they continued to practice, the kids continued to grow, on and off the court.
“The more they practiced, the more they became confident,” said Malwitz. “Before  you know it, you could start to see this whole new attitude.”
“I could literally see changes in the kids, not just in basketball, but in personality,” added Malwitz. “It was overwhelming.”

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