This has all got to be feeling a bit routine.
Oostburg’s girls basketball team has retraced its steps through the postseason so many times now, tonight’s sectional semifinal seems but a foregone conclusion in the Flying Dutchmen’s steady march toward the Division 3 state tournament.
The top-seeded Dutch, ranked No. 8 in the last Associated Press Division 3 poll, plan to square off tonight in West Bend against Berlin in a game that will put the winner just one step away from punching a ticket to Green Bay.
It’s a situation in which Oostburg has found itself so many times lately that fans understandably may feel they’re experiencing déjà-vu.
Let’s recap, briefly. Oostburg has advanced to the state tournament six years in a row. The Dutch started their run in 2007, and reached their high point a year later with a Division 3 state title. Just last year, the team made it to the state championship game, where Kewaunee dealt the Dutch a 50-41 blow.
“Competitive girls are few and far between these days I think,” Oostburg coach Lisa Immel said before a team practice this week. “But I think I’m blessed to have a bunch of ’em. And, you know, the returners who came back and were key contributors to our State run last year — they just are a little hungrier and there’s a little more edge to ’em and a little more push.”
The Dutchmen’s drive will get tested tonight against Berlin, a No. 3 seed that staved off a late comeback to clinch a gutsy upset Friday night over second-seeded Sheboygan Falls.
Abby VanStelle, Oostburg’s 6-foot-1 senior post player and the team’s leading scorer this year, said she’s keying in on the Indians’ Callie Walker, a comparably sized player who railed for 22 points against Falls.
“She’s pretty big,” said VanStelle, who said she and others reviewed game film during their lunch on Tuesday. “She looks pretty athletic on the tape. I’ve just got to make sure I stay low on her and get over the top when she’s posting up.”
The Indians (17-7) are beginning to feel their way through uncharted territory at this point of the season. Unlike Oostburg (20-4), Berlin has never been to a state tournament and will have to contend with the Flying Dutchmen’s considerably more battle-tested postseason experience.
Berlin also will have to find ways to defend itself tonight against two of Oostburg’s more potent scoring weapons: VanStelle and Maranda Huibregtse, who are averaging in the double digits per game this season.
VanStelle poured in a game-high 12 points in a regional final last week against North Fond du Lac, and Huibregtse pitched in 10 more. VanStelle also is averaging more than eight rebounds a game this season.
“Obviously they’re very talented players,” Immel said of the VanStelle-Huibregtse tandem. “It’s their leadership that I really think sets them apart from other players in the area …”
Immel was quick to point out, though, that “those two are only as good as everybody around them.”
“It’s the kids that push them in practice to get better. It’s the kids that are threats as well that people have to account for that allow them to do the things that they do.”
Those other “threats” would include Jocelyn Stemper, who has complemented Oostburg’s two leading scorers this year with regularly solid scoring performances herself — she’s averaging more than eight points per game. And Maria Huibregtse, who’s averaged about seven points per contest this season, has turned into a regular double-digit scorer in the playoffs; in Oostburg’s two regional games, she averaged 11 points a night.
Immel in past interviews has also pointed to 5-8 junior Shannon Boldt, a stalwart on the team’s defense who’s also come up with some clutch 3-pointers at times of the season.
If the team wins tonight, the Dutch will face either East Troy or Kettle Moraine Lutheran in a sectional final on Saturday.
Barring a loss in either sectional round, the Dutch would return to State for the seventh time in a row — where the team no-doubt would like to avenge last season’s finale.
“It’s fed me to want to get back there and get that gold ball this time,” Maranda Huibregtse said of how last year’s loss to Kewaunee has driven her this year.
“I think we’re at a high point,” Immel said. “We’ve been working really hard. We graduated five key players (last season), five key kids to the program, and it took us a while to get to this point where we’re all on the same page. So I think at this point in time we’re extremely proud of where we’re at and we’re just happy that we have the opportunity to work together.”