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Wilber honored, thanks seniors for memorable season

Dakota Wesleyan's Luke Bamberg (2) hugs Dakota Wesleyan Head Coach Matt Wilber after Wilber was named the Rawlins NAIA Division II National Coach of the Year following the Tigers loss to the Cornerstone University Golden Eagles on Tuesday in the NAIA Division II National Championship game in the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. (Matt Gade/Republic)

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. -- When the final buzzer sounded Tuesday, Dakota Wesleyan fans rose to their feet and chanted "DWU."

An estimated 600 Tiger fans had just seen their team lose the NAIA Division II National Tournament championship game to No. 3 Davenport (Mich.) 66-45. But fans continued clapping in support of everything the program accomplished this season.

The Tigers won a single-season record 32 games, set a record for most points in a season (3,166) and advanced the furthest out of any DWU men's basketball team in a postseason tournament.

According to DWU head coach Matt Wilber, he thinks his players will be able to appreciate what they've accomplished soon enough.

"That will hit them very quickly," Wilber said. "They'll feel that because they didn't wait until the last minute to give everything they had. They gave me everything they had from day one when I was on campus. They worked their butts off. They can leave this part of their lives feeling good about it."

After the game concluded, Wilber was honored with the Rawlings NAIA Division II national coach of the year award. But the second-year head coach, who has a 50-19 career record at DWU, was quick to deflect credit.

"Coaches don't get awards if teams aren't successful," Wilber said. "To be successful, you have to have people around you that are committed and buy in. My coaching staff completely bought in. We had a special group of players, and those groups deserve the credit.

"It's very humbling, and I am very appreciative. I just took a step back thinking about where I was a couple years ago, and now I'm talking about the national championship game. I'm doing what I love to do and really appreciate the opportunity."

That didn't stop one of his team captains, Jalen Voss, from recognizing what his coach has done for him.

"It was awesome to see him get that," Voss said. "He's a great coach, everyone loves him. There's no reason he doesn't deserve an award like that taking us to the national championship."

The Tigers are going to graduate four starters in the spring -- Voss, Luke Bamberg, Kris Menning and Joey Mitchell. DWU will return key players such as Tate Martin, Jade Miller and Trae Bergh, but Wilber said it will be tough to replace the energy and leadership that his seniors brought.

"I know that duplicating the success this team had is going to be tough," Wilber said. "Our seniors completely established a culture of greatness, and that's not about wins and losses. Everybody was all in all the time."

Senior forward Luke Bamberg, who was recognized as the NAIA 2015 championship hustle player, said it's going to be weird when practice begins in October and he and his teammates aren't suiting up together anymore.

"Playing for DWU is something I can't even put into words," Bamberg said. "I was just in the locker room, sitting there thinking that I can't imagine what I'm going to be doing when those guys are doing early morning conditioning and practice every day."

Despite the championship loss, Wilber was satisfied to send his seniors out with a 4-1 record in the NAIA Division II National Tournament.

"It's one of those ... you put so much heart and soul into this," Wilber said. "For us to make this kind of run, it will be with them forever. It will be with Dakota Wesleyan forever. It was a historical run, and I'm just really humbled to be a part of it."

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