A run to the WIAA Division 3 sectional final got the Nekoosa girls basketball team noticed last year.
Now they will be one of the hunted instead of the hunters, but sixth-year coach Scott Linzmeier has a veteran group ready to accept all challenges.
“We aren’t a secret anymore,” Linzmeier said. “Getting to the sectional tournament took care of that. We’ll probably have a bull’s eye on our backs this year. Even though we didn’t win the conference, we got the sectional championship and that makes us the type of team other teams want to beat.”
Added senior Lexi Brost, the team’s leading returning scorer, “People know about us now, so we have to put our best foot forward every game and play our style of basketball because every game counts.”
The Papermakers finished third in the South Central Conference last year with a 6-4 record and finished 19-8 overall, falling to Lodi 55-39 in the sectional final.
Nekoosa faces a stiff test right out of the chute when the Papermakers travel to Neillsville — the 2012 Division 4 state champion and a state semifinalist last year — in the season opener.
“Neillsville has a great player back in Jenny Lindner and they are so well prepared, whether it’s the first game of the year or in the playoffs,” Linzmeier said. “They’re going to be a big test for us and we are going to have to play our game to be competitive.”
It’s not like the Papermakers are heading into the season with a young, inexperienced team. Linzmeier has 10 returning players from last year’s squad, including all-SCC selections Brost and Desire Schuh.
“One thing we have back this year is experience,” Linzmeier said. “The girls have been in our system for three years and have played a lot of basketball together, so they know what they have to do to be successful.”
After the Neillsville game, the girls get to play closer to home for their second outing. For years the Nekoosa boys have played in the Cranberry Classic — Assumption’s early season holiday tournament — and this season the Papermakers girls will be at the event, but for one night only.
“We had an opening in our schedule and Joe (Birkhauser) gave me a call and asked if we could help them out and play one night at the Cranberry Classic,” Linzmeier said. “It’s a great tournament and we’re glad to help them out and get a game that’s almost like a home game.”
Added Brost, “It’s going to be fun to play in the Cranberry Classic. We’ve had fun cheering on our boys teams and now we get to play in a packed gym on the holiday weekend. It will be exciting.”