Assumption’s Joe Birkhauser and Newman Catholic’s Tom Weinkauf had the same thought as the two rival girls basketball coaches met near midcourt following the Cardinals’ win over the-then No. 2 and undefeated Royals in mid-February.
“(Birkhauser) said, ‘I would love to play you again.’ and I said, ‘Well, I would love to play you again because I know where it would be at.’ We knew there would be a chance, and obviously we hoped there would be as it meant both of us made it to state,” said Weinkauf about the two longtime rivals meeting in Thursday afternoon’s WIAA Division 5 state semifinal. “It’s going to be a great game and a fun game. It’s turned out to be an incredible rivalry. I guess there’s nobody I’d rather play then them.”
The Cardinals and Royals, whose rivalry dates back to the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association, split their two regular season matchups, but are meeting in the postseason for the fourth straight season after being placed in opposite sectionals this year. Newman Catholic (20-7) — which is making its fourth straight state appearance — has won six of seven matchups with the Royals in the past three years, but are the underdogs this week.
The game is the first matchup of the week as the girls tournament begins its inaugural run at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
“When you play Assumption, you know they’re going to play so hard. You can’t go in and not match their intensity,” Weinkauf said. “If you don’t play hard, you’re going to get kicked. They’re talented. (Mary) Sigler is a great player — no doubt about it, but they go eight deep.”
Cardinals senior guard Kim Steif said she thought about potential third matchup with the Royals when the WIAA brackets were released, but it remained in the back of her mind as the Cardinals made their postseason run.
“Obviously Assumption is a really good team and we’re always excited to play them,” Steif said. “It’s going to be even more exciting to play them at state and in that atmosphere. Both of us are hard-working teams and its going to be a fun game to play and probably watch.
The Royals (26-1), the Marawood South champions, are making the second state appearance in the program’s history with the Royals falling in the state semfinals in 2005. Assumption won 20 straight games to open the season before falling at Newman Catholic 67-59 in what was the third game in the Cardinals’ nine-game streak they carry into this week. Newman, which graduated four starters from last year’s state semifinalist squad, began the year 8-6 as injuries and illness took its toll. The Cardinals last loss was a 60-45 setback at Assumption.
The Cardinals felt they were outworked and outhustled in the first game in came in with Assumption, and came in with a different mindset in the rematch.
“The second time around (against Assumption) we definitely trusted each other more,” Cardinals senior guard Brianna Jankowski said. “We definitely had a closer bond with each other and a feeling of, ‘We can do this, and if we come together as a team, we will beat them.'”
The victory provided a boost to the Cardinals heading into the playoffs.
“It definitely gave us confidence to know we had it in us to come out with a big win, and that we could fight through the pressure,” senior Christina Grunow said.
Tim Johnson can be reached at 715-845-0731. Find him on Twitter as @timmyjo11