LA CROSSE — He wasn’t 100 percent, and he probably won’t be on Friday night, either.
During the seven weeks he was injured or ill, Bronson Koenig lost 15 pounds and the ability to do something he loves.
But the Aquinas High School junior and UW recruit resurfaced on Tuesday night after announcing on Jan. 16 that he was “most likely” done for the season.
Koenig scored eight points in a little over 10 minutes, and sophomore teammate Reggie Rabb scored a game-high 16 as the Blugolds knocked off Viroqua 77-42 in a WIAA Division 3 regional quarterfinal at the Reinhart Athletic Complex.
Koenig played with a splint on his injured right thumb and played in 2-to-3-minute chunks of time.
Sixth-seeded Aquinas (11-12) now plays at third-seeded Prescott (16-5) in a semifinal on Friday night.
Koenig said his early return from torn ligaments in the thumb wasn’t encouraged by his doctor, but that it was allowed.
“I wasn’t told that I should play, but I was told that I could if I wanted to,” Koenig said. “The splint should protect me enough, and it was my choice to play. I do feel like it protects me really well.”
That protection should mean an immediate impact for a team that has showed significant growth without Koenig since his last game on Jan. 6.
Without Koenig, Aquinas has hung tough twice before losing two eight-point games to Central (17-5) and pushed Holmen (14-8) to the wire in a 33-30 loss.
“It was exciting and nice to see him back,” Aquinas coach Rick Schneider said of Koenig, who practiced for the first time on Thursday. “The challenge will be integrating him back in to what we’ve been doing without him.”
The Blugolds were 5-8 while Koenig allowed his thumb to heal and had a tonsillectomy on Feb. 7 that required follow-up surgery five days later.
That kept him, at least some of the time, from even watching his teammates grow and continue to learn what Schneider was teaching.
“A lot of guys have had to accept new roles on the team,” Koenig said, “and they’ve gotten a lot better.”
Schneider thinks that’s the true key to having Koenig return in time for the tournament.
“He makes everyone on our team better,” Schneider said of Koenig, who is averaging 19.4 points per game. “(The rest of the team) had to learn to make plays without him, and they understand what he can do for them.
“But they also know what they can do for themselves, and I’m really happy with where it’s headed.”
Rabb has averaged 11 ppg over the last four games, and sophomore post Parker Weber has scored 16 points or more three times while Koenig was out of the lineup.
Senior Quinn McCartney has had a couple of 20-point games, and junior Nolan Ritter (11 ppg over his last three games) will only get better shots from the perimeter with the passing abilities of Koenig on the floor.
So Koenig’s return suddenly makes the Blugolds a more dangerous team.
But can his presence potentially impact an entire tournament bracket?
“I’d like to hope so,” Koenig said with a smile. “I guess we’ll see.”