The Lake Mills boys basketball team has won back-to-back conference championships for the first time since 1986 and 87.
Two years ago, the Lake Mills boys basketball team was eight minutes away from their first conference title since 2004. It would’ve been a share, but one that Bulldogs had earned. Along with capping off a win over Forest City, Lake Mills needed a final victory of the year over a struggling 2-17 North Union team. The Bulldogs edge Forest City all game long, leading by ten at the end of the first quarter and by the same margin at halftime. Lake Mills ended the third quarter with a nine-point lead that felt larger. However, Forest City – on the road in a hostile environment – erased that lead outscoring the Bulldogs 17-6 in the final frame to come from behind and stun everyone, maybe even themselves. Three nights later, Bishop Garrigan routed North Iowa 102-64 to win the outright title and leave Lake Mills in second place. That night on February 7th, 2020, was the last night Lake Mills has lost a regular-season game, a streak that includes 32 straight conference wins and two outright conferences championships.
That’s Lake Mills senior Bennett Berger, who didn’t mince words after securing the outright conference title with a win over Forest City on Friday night, in the game they lost to the Indians his sophomore season. Berger refused to let Forest City disturb his team’s plans for the game, hitting six of the nine three-pointers he shot for a game-high 18 points.
That’s Lake Mills coach Kyle Menke who has guided the team for nearly a quarter-century.
Lake Mills was the clear favorite coming into the season, and that showed when the Top of Iowa Conference media picked unanimously for them to finish first. But naturally, when losing the school’s all-time rebounder and 324 points with Caleb Bacon, 478 points with Dashawn Linnen, and 48 assists and 42 steals from Ryan Huston, there were questions as to whether Lake Mills could dominate for the title or would they need to fend off a charge from others. The season hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows, but Lake Mills dominated the conference season for the most part. They survived a scare from West Hancock on the first night of the season and took a deep breath after leaving Forest City with a win; other than those, they scored 68 points per conference game while giving up just 33.
Lake Mills’ 32 straight conference wins are the most ever by a Top of Iowa Conference team (east or west). If they beat North Union tonight, they will join West Fork as the only team who has gone undefeated in conference play twice since the TIC formed before the 2015-16 school year, but the first to do it in consecutive seasons. Lake Mills’ streak is second best to Forest City’s 40 game conference streak of their current TIC West teams, ending December 7th, 2001. In both 86 and 87, the Bulldogs went 13-1 in conference play. They won it with ease in 86, but 87 were one game from sharing the title with Forest City.
Berger attributes the success to the hard work of both his teammates and the coaches.
To finish the regular season undefeated, Lake Mills will have to beat an improved North Union team in their unique gym and have a date with Newman Catholic, likely previewing the substate final in late February. And whether they’re playing or helping their team prepare, it will be all hands on deck for the seven Lake Mills seniors that coach Menke said has been the case all season.
Stay with KIOW for coverage as Lake Mills looks to return to Wells Fargo Arena for a third consecutive season.