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WIAA state girls basketball preview: Verona, Reedsburg, Lake Mills hit the road chasing championships

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THE BASICS

What: The 45th WIAA state girls basketball tournament.

When: Thursday through Saturday.

Where: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the tournament has been relocated to two sites: the La Crosse Center (Division 5 on Thursday, D4 on Friday and D2 on Saturday) and Menominee Nation Arena, Oshkosh (D3 on Friday, D1 on Saturday).

Three-point Challenge: This year’s 3-point shooting contest has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Tickets: Any tickets not initially sold through schools are offered through links on the WIAA.WI website or through Ticketmaster (800-653-8000). The ticket price, including processing fee, is $13 per session.

On the air: Each game of the tournament will be televised and streamed live on a statewide network, including Ch. 27 in Madison. The “Magic of March” app offers streaming and other coverage on Apple or Android phones and tablets.

On the Web: Scores, schedules and statistics, as well as tournament history, can be found at www.wiaawi.org/Sports/Winter/Girls-Basketball/Tournament

Media conferences: Postgame media conferences will be shown live without subscription on the WIAA.tv portal of the NFHS Network immediately following each game.

Last year: Last year’s tournament was canceled after four of 15 games were completed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

THE LOWDOWN

DIVISION 1

Verona, seeded fourth and unranked, got a late start to the season due to COVID-19 restrictions, never played a home game and faced tight practice restrictions. But coach Angie Murphy’s Wildcats rebounded from losses to Freedom and Hartland Arrowhead in their final two regular-season games to beat DeForest, Waunakee, Wales Kettle Moraine and Arrowhead in the postseason to earn a state trip for the fifth time and the first since the Wildcats won the 2016 championship. The Wildcats have one senior on the roster. Freshman guard Reagan Briggs leads all scorers with 12.8 points per game, followed by Megan Murphy, a sophomore guard (10.6 ppg), freshman guard Taylor Stremlow (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game) and sophomore forward Paige Lambe (10.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

Germantown, seeded first and ranked second, ousted top-ranked Kimberly 84-72 in a sectional final after rolling past third-ranked Beaver Dam, the three-time defending Division 2 state champ, 74-54 in a sectional semifinal. It’s Germantown’s first state berth. Coach Matt Stuve’s Warhawks lost a late-season game to Brookfield Central but have won 12 since, all by double-digit margins. Sophomore guard K.K. Arnold (22.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.4 apg) has scholarship offers from a long list of state, Big Ten and other major college programs. Senior guard Jaelyn Acker (a Division I California Baptist commit) averages 12.7 ppg and senior guard Natalie Palzkill contributes 10.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg. The Lancers average 17.8 steals per game.

Hudson, seeded second and ranked fifth, beat Wisconsin Rapids and Hortonville in sectionals to take an undefeated record to its eighth state visit and first since 2003. Coach Jessica Vadnais’ Raiders beat Rice Lake by nine points in their fourth game, their only regular-season victory that didn’t come by double digits. Senior Sophia Jonas leads the team in scoring (14.7 ppg, 3.2 apg), and senior forward Audrey Hatfield adds 11.2 ppg and 9.5 rpg.

Franklin, seeded third and unranked, beat Milwaukee Divine Savior Holy Angels 57-54 in a sectional final to earn its fourth state berth and first since 2007. Coach Ronald Hibben’s Sabers lost regular-season games to Marshall, Oak Creek (twice), Greenfield and Oconomowoc, but beat Oak Creek in a regional final. Franklin took a 59-45 win over Verona in the regular season. Senior guard Olivia Rangel, a four-year varsity regular, leads the Sabers (18.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.4 apg), followed by senior forward Gabrielle Gawlitta (10.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg).

DIVISION 2

Reedsburg, seeded second and ranked third, extended its winning streak to 13 games by rolling past Wilmot and McFarland in sectional play. Coach Mark Simon’s Beavers are at state for the seventh time and the first since a 2012 appearance that ended with a semifinal loss to New Berlin Eisenhower. Reedsburg lost a midseason game to Beaver Dam 63-60 but otherwise has won every game by at least 11 points with a per-game scoring margin of 73.8 to 39.4. Reedsburg beat state qualifier Onalaska 77-51. Junior guard/forward Mahra Wieman leads the Beavers with averages of 20.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg. Her twin sister, Macie, averages 3.8 ppg and 6.1 rpg. Freshman guard Sydney Cherney averages 14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 3.6 apg.

New Berlin Eisenhower, seeded third and ranked second, avenged an earlier loss to Milwaukee Pius XI with a 50-37 win in a sectional final. Coach Andy Monfre’s Lions also avenged a loss to Pewaukee in a regional final. Division 1 state qualifiers Germantown and Franklin are the only other teams to beat the Lions, who take an 11-game winning streak to state. Senior guard Nikki Dienberg averages 13.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg, senior guard/forward Kylie Lemberger averages 13.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg, and senior Cameron Hoffman has a team-high 2.7 apg.

Green Bay Notre Dame, seeded first and ranked first, lost its third game to Kimberly but takes a 24-game winning streak into its eighth state trip and first since 2016. Coach Sara Rohde’s Tritons won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. Senior forward Sammy Opichka (Division I St. Thomas recruit) averages 16.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 4.8 apg. Also scoring in double figures are junior forward Sarah Hardwick (11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and freshman Gracie Grzesk (10.4 ppg). The Tritons average 14.6 steals per game.

Onalaska, seeded fourth and ranked 11th, takes a nine-game winning streak to its second state trip, with the first coming in 2016. Coach Shane Schmeling’s Hilltoppers beat Rice Lake in a sectional final 55-33 to avenge a regular-season loss to the Warriors. Onalaska also lost to Reedsburg and Menomonie. Senior guard Olivia Gamoke (a Division II Sioux Falls commit) leads Onalaska with averages of 20.6 ppg and 6.4 rpg, senior wing Molly Garrity averages 9.4 ppg and junior guard Devyn Schmeling averages 3.7 apg.

DIVISION 3 Lake Mills lost in a semifinal in its first state trip last year, and the second-seeded and fourth-ranked L-Cats earned a return this year with a 65-59 win over Marshall in a sectional final. The sectional win avenged a loss to the Cardinals late in the regular season; Lake Mills’ only other loss was a 75-60 decision against La Crosse Aquinas. Coach Brandon Siska’s L-Cats beat Westfield 83-49 in their second regular-season game. The balanced and experienced lineup is led by senior guard Taylor Roughen (13.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg), a Bryant & Stratton College recruit; 6-1 senior forward Vivian Guerrero (10.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.0 apg), senior point guard Julianna Wagner (10.4 ppg), senior guard Ava Wollin (8.6 ppg) and senior center Kayla Will (8.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg).

Westfield, seeded fourth and unranked, earned its first state trip with a 58-55 win over Amherst in a sectional final. Coach Luke Showen’s Pioneers lost their first two games to Appleton Xavier and Lake Mills, and later fell to Princeton/Green Lake, Madison Edgewood and Wisconsin Dells. Freshman forward Carly Drew leads the team with 14.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg; senior Alexa Brakebush averages 14 ppg and leads the team with 70 assists; and sophomore Brandi Lentz averages 12.2 ppg and 6.1 rpg.

La Crosse Aquinas, seeded and ranked first, won Division 4 titles in 2018 and 2019, and didn’t have a chance to earn a repeat last year. This is the team’s fifth straight state trip. Coach Dave Donarski’s Blugolds have won 36 straight games (96 against Wisconsin opponents) and this year average 70.5 ppg and allow 39.5, with a 50-48 win over Prairie du Chien their only single-digit margin of victory. With 2020 graduate Lexi Donarski tearing things up at Iowa State, the Blugolds continued to win in part because of her sister, sophomore point guard Macy Donarski (20.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 6.3 apg). Junior forward Jacy Weisbrod averages 18.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg.

Howards Grove, seeded third and ranked seventh, beat Oostburg 38-37 to earn its third state berth and their first since winning it all in 2017. Coach Heidi Georgeff’s Tigers suffered their only loss to Division 4’s top-ranked team, Mishicot, in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Senior point guard MacKenzie Holzwart (a Division II Northern Michigan commit) leads Howards Grove with 16.2 ppg, 3.6 apg and 3.5 steals per game. Senior Maddie Near averages 14.1 ppg and 7.5 rpg, and senior Leah Parnitzke averages 11 ppg.

DIVISION 4

Mineral Point, seeded third and ranked eighth, earned its second state trip and first since winning the 2016 title with a 65-33 sectional victory over Fennimore. Coach Michael Keyes’ Pointers lost in overtime to Division 5 top-ranked Black Hawk, and also dropped regular-season games against Dodgeville, Division 2 qualifier Reedsburg, Platteville and Fennimore. Junior guard Mallory Lindsey averages 11.7 ppg and 2.6 apg, Macy Aschliman averages 10.6 ppg and 4.8 rpg, and sophomore forward Kennedy Wenger averages 8.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 2.7 apg.

Bangor, seeded second and ranked third, lost its regular-season finale to Royall but downed Auburndale 67-55 in a sectional final to make state for the fourth time in the past five years and fifth time overall, including last year. Coach Merlin Jones’ Cardinals won their second state title in 2018. Sophomore guard Nora Tucker leads the Cardinals with 11.4 ppg and adds 4.0 rpg, and senior guard Megan Miedema adds 11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 4.5 apg.

Mishicot, seeded and ranked first, lost its opener to Hilbert and its third game to Howards Grove but takes a 17-game winning streak to state that includes a revenge win over Howards Grove and a sectional final victory over Randolph. Coach Mike Garceau’s team made its first state trip last year, losing in a semifinal. Senior forward Kylie Schmidt (a Division II Purdue Northwest commit) leads Michicot (16.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.7 spg), and senior Desiree Kleiman (Division II Minnesot-Mankato recruit) adds 16.5 ppg and 8.1 rpg. The two 6-foot seniors are responsible for 89 of Mishicot’s 250 assists.

Fall Creek, seeded fourth and ranked 10th, beat Phillips to advance to state for the 12th time and first since a runner-up finish in 2015. Coach Jason Martzke’s Crickets lost regular-season meetings with Arcadia, Osseo-Fairchild (twice) and Altoona. Mackensy Kolpien, a senior forward, leads the Crickets with 11.6 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Senior Emily Madden averages 10.6 ppg and junior forward Gianna Vollrath leads with 3.5 apg.

DIVISION 5 Black Hawk, seeded and ranked first, takes a 75-game winning streak into its fourth consecutive state trip and seventh overall berth. Coach Michael Flanagan’s Warriors won the 2019 title and qualified but didn’t play last year. A win Friday would tie the Warriors with Cuba City for the second-longest winning streak in state history (92 by Milwaukee Pius XI from 1988 to 1991). The Warriors’ only single-digit victory margin came against Mineral Point; other victories include a 62-47 win over Waunakee. They beat Albany in a sectional final, 55-30. Senior guard Bailey Butler, a UW-Green Bay signee, averages 28.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 8.4 apg and 6.5 steals per game. The Warriors also got 15 ppg from senior guard Kaylee Marty.

Three Lakes, seeded fourth and ranked 11th, lost three of its first five games to Wabeno/Laona, Rhinelander and Crandon, and lost second regular-season meetings to Wabeno/Laona and Crandon before beating Athens 73-30 in a sectional final. Coach George Lurvey’s Bluejays are making their second state trip and first since a semifinal loss in 1999. Sydney Lurvey leads Three Lakes at 14.4 ppg, and junior forward Mari Szews averages 7.5 rpg.

Chippewa Falls McDonell, seeded second and ranked fifth, earned the program’s first state trip with sectional victories over Minong Northwood and Prairie Farm. Coach Don Cooper’s Macks lost regular-season games to Neillsville, Fall Creek and Osseo-Fairchild. Junior guard Lauryn Deetz leads the Macks with 12.8 ppg and adds 5.3 rpg; senior guard Anna Geissler (11.5 ppg) and junior center Abagail Petranovich (6.2 rpg) are other leaders.

Wisconsin Rapids Assumption, seeded third and unranked, is back at state for the first time since a run of four straight appearances (and memorable meetings with Barneveld) from 2013 to 2016. Coach Ryan Klein’s Royals lost six of their first nine games and dropped their regular-season finale to Stratford, but beat Independence and Wauzeka-Steuben in sectional play. Junior guard Ainara Sainz de Rozas averages 13.1 ppg, senior forward Jessie Grundhoffer averages 12.7 ppg, and senior center Emily Bohn averages 7.4 rpg.

— Art Kabelowsky

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