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Both the Bloomer boys and girls basketball teams enter 2019 in the same spot — atop the Heart O’North Conference standings.

But while both one-loss Blackhawk teams enter January in prime position, each team has a key conference matchup on deck this week.

The Bloomer boys (7-1, 4-0) are the first team to return to action when they host Northwestern on Thursday evening. The Blackhawks and Tigers (7-2, 4-0) are the two remaining unbeaten teams in league play and after Thursday’s game, one will be alone atop the standings.

The Blackhawks overcame their first loss of the season last Friday to New Richmond 48-44, defeating Altoona 61-55 on Saturday to close out the Altoona holiday tournament. Bloomer graduated an influential senior class from a season ago including the school’s career scoring leader in Payton Dachel, but the Blackhawks have remained potent. Bradley Sarauer has picked up the slack in the post, averaging 16.4 points per game and scored a season-high 27 in the win over Altoona. Overall the team has four players averaging at least eight points per game.

“We’re just a really balanced basketball team and that’s been the key to success,” Bloomer coach Greg Van Grunsven said after last Friday’s game against New Richmond. “Multiple kids will step up at end of game situations, in the middle of the game, and that’s what fun to coach about them.”

Following Thursday’s game, the Blackhawks hit the road for six games in a row before the team’s next home game on Jan. 31 against Spooner.

The Bloomer girls also suffered their first loss of the season last week, falling at home to state-ranked Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau 51-37 on Saturday. The ‘Hawks begin 2019 atop the league standings with a 6-0 record, one game in front of Northwestern and Friday’s opponent Hayward. Bloomer defeated Northwestern 56-48 on Dec. 14 and could gain some additional breathing room in the standings with a win over the Hurricanes, a team the Blackhawks split the league championship with a season ago. Each team won one regular season meeting before Hayward edged Bloomer 40-32 in the Division 3 sectional semifinals.

“We’re going into Hayward and we’re hoping this game will put it back into perspective that we’ve got some work to do,” Seibel said after the loss. “As a team we’ve got to come together and move in the right direction and I think this was a great learning experience for a lot of the girls. It’s in their court right now how they respond to a game like this.”

Like the boys team, the girls squad has been successful with a balanced attack and like the boys squad that starts in the post. Senior forward Sierra Raine is averaging a team-high 12.1 points per game while five players are averaging at least 5.9 points per contest.

This week offers stiff tests for each team, but also the opportunity to strengthen their respective grasps on the top spot in the league standings. Both teams won conference championships a season ago and victories later this week would go a long way towards possible repeats this winter.

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Chippewa Herald sports editor

Chippewa Herald Sports Editor

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