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Milestone moments for N.E.W. Lutheran

Meersteins, Lynch nab big career hoops marks

By Rich Palzewic

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran boys’ basketball team has a rich history of great teams under the tutelage of longtime coach Mark Meerstein.

This season appears to be no different.

Behind a pair of veteran senior players — Tristian Lynch and Elijah Meerstein — the Blazers are off to a 5-1 start and currently ranked No. 7 in Division 5 in the latest Wissports.net Coaches Poll.

“It’s been a good start to the season,” coach Meerstein said. “In the game we lost (64-57), we didn’t shoot the ball well, and (Weyauwega-Fremont) shot extremely well. We’re trying to get better — we know some of our weaknesses, so we’re hoping our opponents don’t figure them out before we do.”

N.E.W. Lutheran boys’ basketball coach Mark Meerstein picked up his 400th career win earlier this season. The longtime leader for the Blazers is a 2021 Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee. Greg Bates file photo

Milestone win

Meerstein, a 2021 Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, recently won his 400th career game with the Blazers’ 80-63 victory over Sturgeon Bay on Dec. 1.

“I’ve been blessed with great players who have bought into the program,” he said. “During my first season (in 1991-92), I took over a program that was coached by dads the year before. I yelled a lot and didn’t stop pacing the sidelines the whole season. That first group probably took a little too much from me, but it all worked out.”

N.E.W. Lutheran has made eight WIAA state tournament appearances since 2010 — all under Meerstein. The Blazers finished runner-up in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

“I’ll keep coaching as long as God gives me the ability,” Meerstein said. “As soon as I think I’m starting to diminish, then I’ll hang it up. I want to make sure I give the kids the most I have. I don’t have any immediate plans to step away — I’m still enjoying what I do.”

Meerstein said the state tournament appearances were all great and memorable, but a game against Luxemburg-Casco when the Spartans were members of the Packerland Conference sticks out.

“We were down 16 points in the fourth quarter in a game that was basically for the conference championship,” he said. “We had a senior who had a phenomenal fourth quarter, and we ended up winning in overtime.”

Big-time scorer

Lynch, a 6-foot-6 senior, recently scored his 1,000th career point for the Blazers in a 64-45 victory over Algoma on Dec. 6.

A starter since his freshman year, Lynch is currently averaging about 24 points and nine rebounds per game.

“My time at N.E.W. Lutheran has gone incredibly fast,” Lynch said. “When you’re a freshman, you think, ‘I’ve got four more years.’ Now the end is almost here — it’s sad in a way. I want to give it everything I’ve got during my last season.”

Lynch said he hasn’t grown an inch since his freshman year.

“I was hoping to grow a bit more,” he laughed. “I was thinking 6-foot-10, but I never really had a growth spurt after freshman year.”

Lynch said seeing another N.E.W. Lutheran player score 1,000 career points gave him motivation.

“I remember when Dakota Zinser did it,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine — I thought it would be cool and a great goal. Another dream is to play at the Kohl Center (in Madison during the WIAA State Tournament).”

Lynch has been getting some Division III college looks and is keeping his options open.

“I’d for sure like to play in college,” he said. “Ripon has offered me, and the University of Wisconsin-Superior and Wisconsin Lutheran have shown interest.”

Meerstein said Lynch is a great leader and doesn’t let much bother him.

“He plays hard,” he said. “I’ve had to keep adding new things every season so he doesn’t get set in his ways, but then he gets mad at the younger kids when they don’t know what to do. He guards big, he guards small, is good around the basket and can shoot it from long range. His stamina has gotten much better, too. In the past, I’d have to take him out of the game every four minutes to give him a break, but now he can run almost the entire game.”

Another milestone

In the same victory over Algoma, Elijah, the son of Mark, dished out his 500th career assist.

Also a starter since his freshman season, Elijah is currently averaging about 19 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game.

In the victory over Algoma, he scored 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and collected 10 assists — a triple-double.

“After coming in after my brother (Sam Meerstein), there were some big shoes to fill,” Elijah said. “We’ve had a few good seasons, but we want to go further this year.”

Sam, the Green Bay Metro’s all-time leading scorer, totaled 1,986 career points and is now playing at Concordia University Wisconsin.

Elijah said a lot of people assume because he’s the school’s all-time assists leader, he “must look to pass first.”

“When I came into the program, I knew I had more of a passing capability,” he said. “Even when I was younger, I was the guy who seemed to find the open guy no one else saw. This season, I’m still looking to pass, but I’m also looking to score more. It’s helped to have good players finish (with a basket) when I assist them.”

Having scored more than 800 career points, Elijah also has a good chance to crack the 1,000-point barrier as well this season.

“I need to stay healthy and stay the course,” he said. “I’m just looking for team success.”

Elijah loves playing for his dad.

“He’s tough on me, but I like that,” he said. “He’s coached me in baseball, too. Even off the court, we talk about basketball. I watch lots of film, so I’m always running ideas behind him.”

Mark said his son brings a unique skill set to the team.

“When Kaylor Zimmerman had the record of like 464 assists, I didn’t think that would ever be broken,” he said. “Elijah broke the record as a junior, which means he’s had a lot of guys around him who have finished. I had a player last year tell me, ‘All I have to do is put my hands up, and I know Elijah will get me the ball.’ He gets steals, rebounds and has great stamina.”

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