ASHWAUBENON – The Appleton North girls’ basketball team channeled a slice of United States Olympic history Friday.
The Lightning was superlative in its 75-52 victory over Milwaukee King in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal at the Resch Center.
A big key was tempo and North came into the game with the mindset of being aggressive.
To drive home the point, head coach Joe Russom used the example of the United States Olympic hockey team from 1980, which bested the highly favored national team from the Soviet Union in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic Games history.
In that game, the Americans — a collection of amateurs from the collegiate ranks — applied constant pressure on the Soviets, a team made of professionals. Russom wanted to use that “aggressive” mentality in going after the Generals and 6-foot-4 sophomore post player Sydnee Roby.
“Most of the teams, when they play King, they sat back and they let their guards just pass into Roby and we came in with a different mindset,” Russom said. “We’ve never been a passive team. We just said we’re going to attack them.
“The comparison we used was the 1980 ‘Miracle’ team. The Americans went after the Russians’ best team. I’m not saying that (King) is the best team, but they’re a dang good team and we just felt that really playing into us allowed us to create the tempo that we wanted.”
Roby finished with 17 points, but North never allowed King to find a rhythm on offense.
“We also talked about being the aggressors and not fading away or deferring to them just because Roby is a big player and she’s a force inside,” North senior Callie Pohlman said. “So we really wanted to take it at her and everyone else and get to the line and get some points in the paint.”
Winning the turnover battle: North forced 14 turnovers and was extremely secure with the ball. The Lightning had just six turnovers, including only two in the first half.
King’s starting guard trio of Tishara Morehouse, Annaly Garcia and Kaye Clark finished a combined 6-for-28 from the floor with 18 points total.
“I thought our kids executed well,” Russom said. “King is a great team. The (point) differential (near the end), I had to look at the clock a couple of times. I was surprised. They’re a fantastic opponent.”
Russom added that he knew that the Generals were “prone” to turnovers.
“We saw their stats and we felt if we could create some things and get that differential, that would get us some transition baskets,” he said.
Klitzke comes up big: The Lightning goes 10-deep in its rotation and sometimes it’s easy for a player to get lost in the headlines.
Junior forward Kalen Klitzke had a great first half for the Lightning, nailing all three of her shot attempts for six points, and also had three assists.
Her defense on Roby was also solid, with some help from Emma Erickson, Paige Schabo and Kate Lukashewich.
“The big thing with (Klitzke) is we challenged her,” Russom said. “We knew that Roby was going to go out there and try to pack it in and we knew one of our advantages, whether she guarded Paige or Kayla, that kid who can’t shoot the jump shot was going to be wide open. Kayla listened and took advantage of it. She believed in herself and we kind of prepped that three days earlier. She started visualizing it and you could tell that when she was shooting, she was shooting with confidence.”
Budding rivalry?: King coach Craig Machut said his team will learn from this loss and that the experience will help them for next season.
The Generals, like the Lightning, return a majority of their players for next season. To that end, Machut said he has lined up top opponents for his team next season, including Beaver Dam, Mukwonago and a game against the Lightning.
“They have a lot coming back next season and we have a lot coming back, too,” Machut said. “We scheduled them nonconference next year and we’ll see if we can make this a little bit of a rivalry, I guess.”
She said it: “I would say no. All season our team has had a target on our back, undefeated, conference champs. I don’t think adding that adds any pressure. I think maybe from the outside it would, but to us it doesn’t. We’re just going to go in tomorrow and give it our all.” — Kari Brekke, Appleton North junior point guard, on if the team feels any pressure trying to win their first girls’ basketball title.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo