Dan Wandrey remembers a preseason conversation he had with Sam Rohde.
The two spoke about how they wanted to make it a special final season for the seven seniors on the roster. Both knew the ingredients were there for it to happen. It just all had to come together — and it didn't take long to see Brookfield Central's boys basketball team had what it took to make a goal turn into reality.
Winning the Greater Metro Conference title by two full games at 12-2, the Lancers cruised to a regional title and won a sectional championship to advance to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament for the first time since 2008 before losing in the state semifinal to Arrowhead to finish at 24-3 overall.
"The word 'special' comes to mind," Brookfield Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "It was a special season. If every coach could identify and quantify what it is and what it takes, we’d all bottle it and keep it. It was a special group of kids that had a special season.
"All those things resulted in a trip to Madison. While it didn’t end the way we wanted it to or felt like it should have, you can’t take away from those boys what they accomplished."
Brookfield Central opened the season by winning its first 10 games, with seven of those victories coming by at least 17 points. The Lancers beat Mukwonago by 27, Milwaukee Bay View by 25, Waukesha North by 39, Whitefish Bay by 40 and West Allis Hale by 41. .
What stood out was how the Lancers won those games, using smothering defense to hold teams well below their scoring averages.
"Our first three or four games were an eye-opener for our coaching staff," Wandrey said. "Coming into the season it was pretty evident that we would have a pretty good offensive team with the ability to score in different ways.
"Our question mark as a staff and as a team was how we were going to defend, especially with our lack of size, and how we were going to rebound. Those first few games answered those questions."
After dropping its first game of the season in a 67-60 overtime loss to Brookfield East on Jan. 13, Brookfield Central won its next 10 games, including a 62-52 win over East, before losing its regular season finale to Menomonee Falls.
Entering the playoffs as the top seed in the Division 1 West Allis Central sectional, the Lancers rolled through its two regional games, with an 84-55 win over 16th-seeded West Allis Hale and a 90-38 victory over eighth-seeded Racine Horlick.
After outlasting fourth-seeded Milwaukee Riverside, 63-52, in the sectional semifinal, Brookfield Central moved on to Madison with a 74-66 win over second-seeded Milwaukee Vincent in the sectional final.
The Lancers then squared off with Arrowhead in what turned out to be a state-tournament classic. The Warhawks rallied late in regulation to force overtime. A putback by Sam Rohde gave Brookfield Central a 62-61 lead with 24 seconds to play, but a difficult shot by Arrowhead’s Tommy Durand put the Warhawks in front at 63-62 with 6.3 seconds remaining.
Brookfield Central had two attempts at potential game-winning shots, but neither found the bottom of the net.
Gage Malensek racked up numerous postseason honors after averaging 20.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals with a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He shot 54.6 percent (183 for 335) from the field, 41.3 percent (31 for 75) from 3-point land and 81.5 percent (150 for 184) from the free-throw line
The sophomore was the Greater Metro Conference Player of the Year and a first-team Division 1 All-State and first-team All-Greater Metro selection.
Wandrey was named Greater Metro Coach of the Year for his efforts in leading the Lancers.
Also earning first-team All-Greater Metro was sophomore guard Cole Nau, who did a little of everything for the Lancers. Nau averaged 10.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He also was a lockdown defender, taking on the opponent's best player, and holding Terrence Lewis of Riverside to just 12 in a sectional game.
Rohde earned second-team All-Greater Metro after averaging 10.8 points and shooting 51 percent (97 for 187) from the field and 46 percent (65 for 140) on 3-point tries.
Junior guard Andres Peralta-Werns (15.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 45 percent from field, 38 percent on threes) and senior forward Chris Post (5.7 points, 6.3 rebounds) were honorable mention.
"Obviously, Gage was special," Wandrey said. "But we had balance. Andres Peralta-Werns scored a little bit the year before, but there were some challenges involved in what we wanted him to do a little bit better, and he accepted those and did it. He had some absolutely huge games.
"Cole Nau, Sam Rohde and Chris Post were guys whose contributions went so far beyond what the box score told you. Chris Post was just immeasurably invaluable to our team. I don’t think people understand how much we are going to miss what he did for a guy that averaged 5 points per game."
Brookfield Central will graduate two starters in Rohde and Post, along with Carson Gehl, Matt Flynn, Nate Verhagen, Stephen Williams and Dawson Carnell.
"Our seven seniors were just great model teammates," Wandrey said. "A lot of them didn’t play, and they were just great for their team. You can’t say enough about that. They don’t get that recognition because they aren’t on the court."
The future remains bright for the Lancers, as Malensek, Nau and Peralta-Werns return to provide one of the top trios in the state. Also coming back will be juniors Jack Brady, Charlie Debbink and Ian Debbink and sophomores Jack Cooney and Joey Cleary.
But although Brookfield Central will be strong on paper heading into next season, Wandrey knows it won't be easy to get back to — or exceed — where this year's team reached.
"I’ve been around long enough to know state championship game appearances don’t come along every year," Wandrey said. "We had that thing in the grasp of our hands and let it slip away.
"I’m hoping that’s there for a little motivation for our guys. I don’t know if redemption is the right word, but it is something to work toward. We were there and want to get back there."