Lake Mills girls basketball coach Brandon Siska took over a team that had won two games in 2016-17, including none in conference play.
But Siska believed the youthful L-Cats could develop into a special group when he first saw the players in the gym and how hard they worked in practices and the offseason.
Lake Mills made continual progress, including reaching the state tournament for the first time last year, and the L-Cats’ journey was fully realized Feb. 26 at Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh.
Lake Mills, with 10 seniors on the roster, won the WIAA Division 3 state championship -- defeating top-ranked and previously undefeated La Crosse Aquinas 78-67 in the title game.
“You work toward this and form memories for a lifetime,” said Siska, 36, in his fourth season as Lake Mills’ coach. “The biggest thing has been the journey the last four years.”
For his efforts directing the L-Cats (25-2) to their first girls basketball state title after navigating a difficult playoff schedule that included four ranked teams, Siska was named The Associated Press girls basketball coach of the year by a statewide panel of sportswriters.
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“I’m just so proud of my kids,” Siska said. “We felt we had the toughest road to go through.”
Marshall senior forward Anna Lutz and Beaver Dam senior guard Maty Wilke were named to the AP all-state second team.
UW-Milwaukee commit Lutz averaged 17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocked shots per game while leading Marshall to the sectional final against eventual state champion Lake Mills. She was a third-team all-state pick as a junior and sophomore.
University of Wisconsin commit Wilke, a first-team choice last year, was averaging 21.8, 6.1 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 4.4 steals and shooting 58%, including 52% from 3-point range, when her season was ended after eight games by a torn ACL.
Beaver Dam senior guard Natalie Jens was selected for the third team. Lake Mills senior center Vivian Guerrero, Marshall senior forward Laura Nickel and Reedsburg junior forward Mahra Wieman were named to the fourth team.
Germantown sophomore guard Kamorea “KK” Arnold, who led her team to the Division 1 state crown, was a first-team selection and was named the AP girls basketball player of the year by unanimous vote.
The other first-team choices were Black Hawk senior point guard Bailey Butler, Green Bay Notre Dame senior guard Sammy Opichka, Kimberly senior guard Maddy Schreiber and Appleton East junior guard Emily La Chapell. Arnold and Butler were unanimous first-team selections.
Arnold, Butler (the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association’s “Miss Basketball”) and Opichka were nominated for player of the year.
Arnold averaged 22.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.8 steals for Germantown. She had 31 points and seven assists in Germantown’s 63-48 victory over Hudson in the Division 1 title game Feb. 27.
Arnold is the first sophomore to win the award since 2013 when former Divine Savior Holy Angels standout Arike Ogunbowale, a player to whom she is often compared, received the honor.
Watertown Luther Prep junior center Grace Schmidt was among 15 players who received high honorable mention accolades.
Other area or region players receiving honorable-mention recognition included Reedsburg junior Trenna Cherney, McFarland senior Katie Hildebrandt, Madison Edgewood Sarah Lazar, Mineral Point junior Mallory Lindsey, McFarland freshman Teagan Mallegni, Lodi senior Lauryn Milne, Lake Mills senior Taylor Roughen, Verona freshman Taylor Stremlow and Lake Mills senior Julianna Wagner.
Cuba City senior guard Bailey Lutes, a former Sun Prairie athlete, also was an honorable-mention pick.
Other coaches nominated for the coaching honor included Mishicot’s Mike Garceau, Germantown’s Matt Stuve, Wisconsin Rapids Assumption’s Ryan Klein, Green Bay Notre Dame’s Sara Rohde and Hudson’s Jessica Vadnais.
Second-seeded and fourth-ranked Lake Mills was in an underdog role in the title game after dropping a regular-season game to top-seeded Aquinas 75-60, but Siska said, “We believed we could win.”
And the L-Cats did with an outstanding performance.
“It was a little surreal (afterward),” Siska said. “Even as a player you dream of that championship. Then you think about that you’re losing 10 seniors. … There are still a lot of emotions. It hasn’t fully set in.”
Five players scored in double figures in Lake Mills’ title-game victory, led by senior center Vivian Guerrero’s 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The Capitol North Conference champion L-Cats advanced to the final earlier that day with a 70-60 state semifinal victory over third-seeded and seventh-ranked Howards Grove. They were led by senior wing Jade Pitta (19 points) and senior guard Julianna Wagner (18 points), who returned earlier than expected during the season after tearing her ACL in last year’s state semifinal loss.
The two victories in Oshkosh capped a four-game gauntlet of what Siska considered state-championship-caliber teams. Lake Mills edged host and sixth-ranked Prairie du Chien 57-56 on Guerrero’s last-second basket in the sectional semifinal and earned a 65-59 double-overtime sectional final victory over fifth-ranked Marshall, the only other team to defeat Lake Mills during the regular season.
Siska said he was honored by the recognition and thanked his players, administration and coaching staff of Samantha Herrington, Bobby Rose, Haylee Erb and Meg Ranney.
“Having a great staff really helps and allowed me to do what I do,” he said.
Siska said Lake Mills took better care of the basketball and played with a sense of urgency the second half of the season.
He said the players’ experience helped, as the team didn’t panic. Siska said he learned a great deal from the players, including about remaining calm.
Siska, who grew up as a basketball gym rat in Indiana, built up a high school boys basketball program in North Carolina from 2013-17 prior to arriving at Lake Mills.
“We knew we had potential in the freshman class, but we knew it would take a lot of work to get there,” Siska said, recalling when he took over at Lake Mills. “The amount of work these kids put in during the offseasons and during the season was incredible.”
Player of the year
Story by Mark Stewart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Kamorea “KK” Arnold delivered.
That is the simplest way to sum up the sophomore season for the Germantown girls basketball standout who is also the state’s top college prospect regardless of class.
Faced with the lofty expectations that come with being a top-10 recruit nationally, the 5-foot-9 point guard showed an improved version of herself while leading the Warhawks to their first state championship. She finished the year with a signature performance in the state final that put an exclamation point on the campaign.
Arnold’s play was so impressive that a panel of sportswriters from around the state made her the unanimous pick for the Associated Press girls basketball state player of the year. Black Hawk’s Bailey Butler and Green Bay Notre Dame’s Sammy Opichka, two seniors, also were nominated.
Arnold is the first sophomore to win the award since 2013 when former Milwaukee Divine Savior Holy Angels standout Arike Ogunbowale, a player to whom she is often compared, received the honor.
“It’s a great comparison. I love hearing that, especially me being from the area, but I always say Arike is Arike and I’m KK,” said Arnold, who is ranked fifth in the 2023 class by ESPN. “I carry my own label.”
Arnold averaged 22.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.8 steals for Germantown. Known for her ability to attack the basket, she raised her three-point shooting from 23.6% as a freshman to 30.3% as a sophomore and lifted her free throw percentage from 67.6% to 73%.
And physically, she was more prepared for the demands of play in the Greater Metro Conference, one of the toughest leagues in the state.
“Freshman year she attacked the basket just as much but ended up on the ground because of getting contact at the basket and not being able to absorb it as much,” Germantown coach Matt Stuve said. “She just physically got a lot stronger and you didn’t see her on the ground nearly as much after that contact.”
Arnold had a career-high 41 points in a 77-74 victory over DSHA on Dec. 4. She posted five double-doubles in scoring and rebounding this season. She also flirted with triple-doubles in the aforementioned game with DSHA (41 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) and on Feb. 18 against Beaver Dam in the sectional semifinal (26 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists).
She averaged 25.8 points, eight rebounds and 4.6 assists in the tournament, completing the run with a 31-point, seven-assist showing in a 63-48 victory over Hudson in the final on Feb. 27. The victory was highlighted by a decisive run in which Arnold either scored or assisted on 20 of 23 points to help the Warhawks break open a tie game.
It was Germantown’s 14th consecutive victory to end the season.
“After that game we lost against Brookfield Central (on Jan. 12), we carried ourselves a little different,” Arnold said. “We picked it up. We said we’re not losing any more. We said we need to lock in on the rest on the season, just believe in our coach.”
Coach of the year story for AP by Jon Masson, Wisconsin State Journal
Player of the year story for AP by Mark Stewart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
2020-21 AP ALL-STATE GIRLS BASKETBALL
PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Kamorea “KK” Arnold, Germantown
COACH OF THE YEAR – Brandon Siska, Lake Mills
*Kamorea “KK” Arnold, 5-6, so., Germantown
*Bailey Butler, 5-8, sr., Black Hawk
Sammy Opichka, 6-0, sr., Green Bay Notre Dame
Maddy Schreiber, 6-0, sr., Kimberly
Emily La Chapell, 6-0, jr., Appleton East
Anna Lutz, 6-1, sr., Marshall
Lily Krahn, 5-10, jr., Prairie du Chien
Grace Grocholski, 5-10, so., Wales Kettle Moraine
Maty Wilke, 5-10, sr., Beaver Dam
Abbie Aalsma, 5-9, jr., Waupun
Kylie Schmidt, 6-0, sr., Mishicot
Callie Genke, 6-0, sr., Freedom
CJ Romero, 5-3, sr., Brookfield Central
Natalie Jens, 5-7, sr., Beaver Dam
Macy Donarski, 5-8, so., La Crosse Aquinas
Vivian Guerrero, 6-1, sr., Lake Mills
Olivia Gamoke, 5-6, sr., Onalaska
Laura Nickel, 6-0, sr., Marshall
Mahra Wieman, 5-10, jr., Reedsburg
Jordan Meulemans, 6-0, jr., De Pere
High Honorable Mention (received at least one vote)
Jaelyn Acker, sr., Germantown; Ziy Conner, sr., Independence; Kiley Deaton, sr., Wausau West; Nikki Dienberg, sr., New Berlin Eisenhower; Phoebe Frentzel, sr., Arrowhead; Morgann Gardner, sr., Racine Lutheran; Mackenzie Holzwart, sr., Howards Grove; Isabella Lenz , sr., Prescott; Julianna Ouimette, so., Lakeland; Olivia Rangel, sr., Franklin; Grace Schmidt, jr., Watertown Luther Prep; Alayna Suprenand, sr., Fond du Lac Winnebago Lutheran; Chloe Van Zeeland, sr., Kaukauna; Jacy Weisbrod, jr., La Crosse Aquinas; Allie Ziebell, fr., Neenah.
(Geographically represented list that draw from each region)
Trenna Cherney, jr., Reedsburg; Chloe Dallas, sr., Wauwatosa East; Clare Diener, jr., Cedarburg; Autumn Earney, sr., Ellsworth; Jada Eggebrecht, jr., Phillips; Emma Gruen, sr., Royall; Makenna Guden, sr., Edgar; Sarah Hardwick, jr., Green Bay Notre Dame; Alaina Harper, jr., Arrowhead; Audrey Hatfield, sr., Hudson; Katie Hildebrandt, sr., McFarland; Molly Johannes, jr., Laconia; Gabby Johnson, sr., Freedom; McKenna Johnson, fr., Wilmot; Sophia Jonas, sr., Hudson; Ella Jordan, jr., West Salem; Allyson Kakes, so., Two Rivers; Desiree Kleiman, sr., Mishicot; Sarah Lazar, sr, Madison Edgewood; Leah Lemke, jr., Wrightstown; Mallory Lindsey, jr., Mineral Point; Bailey Lutes, sr., Cuba City; Teagan Mallegni, fr., McFarland.
Lauryn Milne, sr., Lodi; Mya Moore, jr., Milwaukee Pius XI; Sarah Newcomer, jr., Pewaukee; Alyssa Nimz, sr., Waukesha Catholic Memorial; Maddie Ognacevic, jr., Sheboygan South; Bella Opelt, sr., Neillsville; Kamy Peppler, jr., Hortonville; Tieryn Plasch, so., Maple Northwestern; Haley Rens, sr., Laconia; Makenna Rohrscheib, jr., Eau Claire Regis; Taylor Roughen, sr., Lake Mills; Ainara Sainz de Rozas, jr., Wisconsin Rapids Assumption; Meghan Schultz, so., New Berlin West; Angela Slattery, sr., Union Grove; Lindsay Steien, so., Blair-Taylor; Taylor Stremlow, fr., Verona; Alexa Thomson, sr., West De Pere; Braelyn Torres, so., Kettle Moraine; Kara Troxel, sr., Bonduel; Julianna Wagner, sr., Lake Mills; Callie Ziebell, sr., Sparta.