One of the biggest strengths of the Appleton North girls’ basketball team this season was its incredible depth.
The Lightning (28-0) had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to athletes on its rosters and North was able to use that to its advantage in capturing the WIAA Division 1 state title at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
North dispatched Milwaukee King 75-52 in Friday’s semifinal, then held off De Pere 49-34 in the championship game Saturday night to claim the city of Appleton’s first WIAA championship in girls’ basketball.
While North’s win over King was perhaps its finest of the season, the Lightning’s victory over De Pere was more workmanlike.
“For us, I don’t think it was our best game,” North coach Joe Russom said in the postgame media conference. “I think we were a little tight. Maybe we danced too long in the locker room before we went out there. But the kids found a way and managed the game. They found their shots and they closed it out.”
Here’s the bad news for the rest of the state: North returns almost its entire roster for next season. Of course, losing starter Callie Pohlman and reserve Kate Lukashewich will hurt, but the Lightning is definitely one of the favorites to win it all again next year.
“If we stay healthy and stay focused and stay humble, sure,” Russom said of the possibility of a North repeat. “I think that last part is the most important part because what we’ve done tonight and this season is done. Once we start practice in November or whatever it is, it’s a whole new team and a whole new dynamic. We have to approach it like a completely different season.”
You can call Pohlman and junior guard Kari Brekke veterans when it comes to handling state media.
The North duo was engaging in their postgame press conference late Saturday night and commented on a variety of subjects.
On the pressure of returning to the state tournament, Brekke said: “I can’t say that we never felt the pressure because I think that’s unrealistic. But I think we did a great job of not letting it get to our heads. Being undefeated the entire season, you do have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder.”
Brekke also said that the younger players did a good job of staying focused and also pointed out that freshman forward Emma Erickson “has never lost a game in her high school career. She has more state championships than losses.”
Pohlman feigned umbrage when a Green Bay-area TV personality asked coach Russom if North was a favorite to do well next season because the Lightning were “only” losing Pohlman and Lukashewich to graduation.
“Ouch!” Pohlman said with a laugh.
Pohlman also had a quick one-liner when Brekke mentioned being a fifth-grader and growing up through the Lightning youth program.
“You go up to the high schoolers and they seem very big when you’re that small,” Brekke said.
“Still do,” Pohlman said.
Pohlman also reflected on her youth and attending the state tournament with her mother.
“I would skip school and go watch,” she smiled. “I never thought that I would be there one day and now we’re there and we won and it’s crazy.”
Brekke and North teammate Paige Schabo were named to the all-tournament team after the state tournament. Shemera Williams of Milwaukee Academy of Science was voted the most valuable player.
Other all-tournament team players were Estella Moschkau, Edgewood; Cassidy Trotter, Beaver Dam; Olivia Stauss, Howards Grove; Karsyn Rueth, Loyal; Lexi Donarski, Aquinas; Sydnee Roby, Milwaukee King; Morgan Reinwand, Loyal; and Bailey Eichner, Cudahy.
Let’s take a look at how I did on my predictions from a few weeks ago for the final four matchups for the WIAA boys’ basketball tournament:
Division 1: Stevens Point vs. Madison Memorial; Arrowhead vs. Brookfield Central. Verdict: MISS – The only team I had correct was Brookfield Central. Two of my picks, Oshkosh North and Kimberly, did reach the sectional final, though. Stevens Point was amazing in its win over Oshkosh North and is my pick to win its third consecutive title.
Division 2: La Crosse Central vs. Waunakee; Cedarburg vs. Milwaukee Washington. Verdict: PUSH – I was right on La Crosse Central and Milwaukee Washington, but missed when I picked Stoughton and Kaukauna. Kaukauna did reach the sectional final. I picked La Crosse Central to win the state title before the tournament started and will stay with that pick.
Division 3: Prescott vs. Lake Mills; Xavier vs. Ripon. Verdict: HIT – I correctly picked three of the final four entries, with Lake Mills my only miss. I had Prairie du Chien reaching the semifinals. Xavier got my vote as the top team in D3 all season and I believe Xavier wins the title.
Division 4: Cameron vs. Darlington; Roncalli vs. Destiny. Verdict: PUSH – Darlington and Destiny proved me right, but I missed by picking Regis over Cameron and Shiocton over Roncalli. Roncalli is the real Cinderella here, with a 13-13 record. Destiny should win the state title out of this quartet.
Division 5: McDonell Central vs. Shullsburg; Columbus Catholic vs. Barneveld. Verdict: PUSH – I had one-half of the bracket correct with McDonnell Central and Shullsburg. I had Hilbert vs. Loyal in the other semifinal, though Hilbert did reach the sectional final. I’ll go with defending state champ McDonell Central to win the title.
As for my girls’ state championship picks, I was correct on Appleton North (D1), Beaver Dam (D2) and Madison Edgewood (D3) and missed on Howards Grove (D4) and Loyal (D5).
The week ahead
Varsity Roundtable, Wednesday, 7 p.m.: The undefeated and WIAA Division 1 state champion Appleton North girls’ basketball team stops by the big show to talk about its amazing season and state tournament victories over Milwaukee King and De Pere. Online on postcrescent.com.
Player profile, Thursday: Xavier’s Cal Christensen gives us his thoughts on his team’s upcoming WIAA Division 3 state boys’ basketball semifinal against Ripon at the Kohl Center.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo