By Gary R. Rasberry
During his first two full seasons on the varsity squad for St. Henry, Kurt Huelsman was a solid contributor to a team that had plenty of options for scorers. Huelsman's role was to control the paint, rebound and score when the opportunity arises.
The reward was a state championship his sophomore season, being named the outstanding player of the tournament, and a district finals appearance his junior year.
Coming into his senior year, Huelsman was asked to become the go-to player, the one who needed to score night in and night out.
Huelsman answered the call.
In being named The Daily Standard's Boys Basketball Player of the Year, Huelsman showed a strong determination to help the Redskins advance to the regional semifinals and left an imprint on the Grand Lake Area boys basketball scene that will be remembered. Huelsman becomes the fourth St. Henry player to earn the area's top player honor, joining Ryan Uhlenhake (1996 and 1997), Dennis Wendel (1998) and Todd Boeckman (2002). The fourth player to be honored also breaks the tie at the top with Celina and Marion Local each with three honorees.
Huelsman returned this season after a solid junior campaign and the Redskins were a much more inexperienced team than that from the district runner-up team of a year ago.
With scorers like Nate Stahl and Ross Niekamp off to Capital University to play on the college level, Huelsman knew that he would be depended on to add more to his scoring after averaging 11.8 points per game as a junior.
A new focus on scoring was one of the things that St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp talked to Huelsman about in the preseason, especially with the team having just two players who saw significant time on the varsity level last season and a group of incoming juniors who played primarily junior varsity last season.
One thing that Huelsman didn't have to be concerned about is calls from coaches. University of Dayton coach Brian Gregory already had Huelsman committed to the Flyers in his junior season and that weight was one that Huelsman was glad he didn't have on his mind during his senior campaign.
"I think that was helpful. I didn't have to worry about that," said Huelsman of the college recruiting. "I didn't have to worry about scholarships."
The end result was a 17-3 regular season and 6-3 mark in the MAC. Huelsman and postmate Toby Boeckman contributed the majority of the points, but as the season went along, the other role players began to contribute more and more to all the aspects of the game.
"We played very well," said Huelsman. "Everyone played well. Mitch (Niekamp) and the guys (from last year's jayvee team) did very well. They got better from the beginning of the season."
The Redskins knocked off Ottawa-Glandorf in convincing fashion to advance to the regionals for the second time in three years before losing to Johnstown-Monroe in the semifinals at Bowling Green State University's Anderson Arena.
Huelsman was a dominant force inside throughout the season, averaging 15.4 points and hitting 66.5 percent of his field-goal tries. Huelsman also averaged 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game as a defensive intimidator to go along with averaging 2.1 assists per game.
The MAC coaches named Huelsman the league Player of the Year and the Associated Press named him first-team All-Ohio in Division III.
Now Huelsman takes his game to Dayton and the Atlantic 10 Conference and one thing Huelsman knows is that things will not be like they were in high school.
"I'll take the experiences I had at St. Henry. I'll be a little bit smarter," said Huelsman. "It's a whole different ballgame down there. I'm not going to be the big guy down there."