The bruises and scrapes collected over a long season had faded when the trio walked through the doors of the Resch Center last Friday.
But the shared memory of winning a state championship there last month will last a lifetime for Green Bay Notre Dame’s Allie LeClaire, Algoma’s Taylor Schmidt and Kewaunee’s Kelsey Stangel.
LeClaire, Schmidt and Stangel faced different circumstances entering the season and each managed to shine throughout in leading their teams to titles in the first WIAA state girls basketball tournament held at the Resch.
For their efforts, LeClaire, Schmidt and Stangel are the Press-Gazette Media girls basketball co-players of the year.
“My only goal was to get here,” said Schmidt about making it to state.
The Algoma senior had played at state as a sophomore when her team finished as the Division 4 runner-up.
But toward the end of her junior season, a return took on a whole new meaning for Schmidt when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
The 5-foot-6 guard recovered in time for the start of her senior season and seemingly picked up where she left off, averaging 13.6 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game to be named the Packerland Conference player of the year for a second time in three years.
During January, Algoma coach Mark Zastrow compared Schmidt’s impact to that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and his recovery from knee surgery.
The only difference was that instead of taking on the bulk of the workload like Peterson did, Schmidt was passing it off to a largely new cast of teammates and helping them develop to the varsity game at a rapid pace.
“My knee was getting sore at the end of the season and my trainer (Kim Yaeger) said to me, ‘I want you to be the Taylor Schmidt that said she wasn’t going to let her team lose,’ ” said Schmidt, who will play at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
For Kewaunee — having graduated its top two scorers from the previous season — Stangel knew the Storm’s chances of repeating as the D3 champion would require everyone to do more since its bench wasn’t as deep.
To the 5-foot-9 forward, that meant refining her perimeter game to make it as strong as her moves in the post while rehabbing from a meniscus injury that caused her to miss a majority of the regular-season games as a junior.
“I knew if I would be more than one-dimensional, I would be a greater asset to the team,” said Stangel, who shot 33.3 percent from 3-point range (24-for-72) in averaging 13.7 points to go with 8.5 rebounds per game this season.
Her presence helped wear down opponents in the playoffs, where the Storm had to rally from a halftime deficit in three of its final four games. That included tying a career high with 27 points as Kewaunee rallied from 13 points down in the second half before upending East Troy for the D3 championship.
“I wanted to get down to the Resch because I wanted the team to experience this and the younger girls who hadn’t yet,” said Stangel, the WIAA state tournament MVP, who made a verbal commitment to Northern Michigan University on Tuesday.
LeClaire made her college choice before her junior season with a verbal commitment to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“I was pretty happy to get my college decision over with, but my main focus was getting my team back to state this year,” said the Fox River Classic Conference player of the year.
While the 5-foot-8 guard didn’t feel extra pressure as a newly minted DI recruit, she felt the target on her team’s back in its attempt to return to D2 state.
Despite a rocky 5-4 start, the Tritons were able to do that with LeClaire averaging 15.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
“I readjusted my shot this year,” she said. “I still have a lot to work on, but when I was open I shot a lot more than I did last year and I think that opened up how players had to guard me.”
LeClaire’s strongest outing came in the sectional finals against a larger Beaver Dam squad, which sent her to the ground on numerous occasions while driving to the lane. She scored a career-high 32 points, including three 3s in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
But the bumps she took that day were worth it for a chance to play at home for a state title.
Said LeClaire: “The atmosphere at the Resch gave us a huge advantage.”
Press-Gazette all-area girls basketball team
Morgan Anderson, sr., De Pere: The Michigan Tech recruit averaged 13.4 points, 3.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game in the Fox River Classic Conference, where she earned first-team honors and was named defensive player of the year. The Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association selected her as a Division 1 all-state choice.
Kayla Dawson, sr., De Pere: The Grand Valley State recruit averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game to help the Redbirds win the title in the FRCC, where she was a first-team pick in addition to receiving honorable-mention D1 all-state from the WBCA.
Natisha Hiedeman, so., Green Bay Southwest: Averaged 16.1 points per game to lead the FRCC, where she was a first team all-conference selection. Tallied 30 points during an upset of Bay Port in February, which ultimately helped the Trojans finish tied for fourth in the league after an eighth-place finish last year.
Laken James, jr., Oconto: Earned D4 all-state from the WBCA after leading the Blue Devils to their first sectional final appearance since 1980. Averaged 15.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game as a unanimous first-team all-Packerland Conference player.
McKenna Larsen, jr., Oconto Falls: Led the Bay Conference by averaging 17.1 points, 4.7 assists and 5.0 steals per game as a unanimous first-team player. Received honorable-mention D2 all-state from WBCA.
Allie LeClaire, jr., G.B. Notre Dame: The UWGB recruit and FRCC player of the year shot 58.7 percent from the field, including 32.1 percent from 3-point range, in averaging 15.5 points in addition to 3.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.9 steals per game this season. A D2 all-state pick from the WBCA.
Chelsea Nooker, sr., Bay Port: The St. Cloud State recruit led the FRCC by averaging 4.4 assists and 4.1 steals per game in addition to 15.0 points and 5.9 rebounds as a first-team player. Received honorable-mention D1 all-state from WBCA.
Alex Richard, sr., Kewaunee: A unanimous all-Packerland choice, the 6-foot post player averaged 12.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Received honorable-mention D3 all-state from WBCA and finished her career with a game-winning layup for the D3 title.
Taylor Schmidt, sr., Algoma: The Packerland player of the year was a unanimous first-team choice after averaging 13.6 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game in league play. The UW-Oshkosh recruit was a unanimous D4 all-state choice by the WBCA.
Kelsey Stangel, sr., Kewaunee: The WIAA state tournament MVP and D3 all-state pick by the WBCA shot 58.9 percent from the field, including 33.3 percent from 3-point range. The first team all-Packerland choice averaged 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 1.6 assists per game.
Freshman of the year:
Anna Dier, Algoma — Inserted into the starting lineup midway through the season, she provided another scoring presence inside with her 5-foot-11 frame to help the Wolves win their first state title since 1986.
Coach of the year:
Sara Rohde, Green Bay Notre Dame — The Associated Press coach of the year led the Tritons back to state and won the D2 title in her second season. Following a rough start, she implemented a press defense and got her squad to play its best at the end of the year.
Makenna Ash, so., Gibraltar; Kennedy Blahnik, jr., Algoma; Whitney Boda, sr., Shawano; Brianna Byrne, sr., G.B. Notre Dame; Eliza Campbell, jr., G.B. Notre Dame; Bailey Denis, so., West De Pere; Anna Dier, fr., Algoma; Jen Dowden, so., Bonduel; Shannen Ganter, sr., Peshtigo; Kelsey Hischke, sr., Gillett; Claire Jordan, jr., Bay Port; Lexi Kinnard, jr., Luxemburg-Casco; Jill Kleiman, sr., Kewaunee; Courtney Klister, sr., Wrightstown; Carly Lemke, jr., Oconto Falls; Cheyanne McFarlin, sr., Southern Door; Jaci Mielke, sr., N.E.W. Lutheran; Makayla Raith, jr., Elcho; Mackenzie Sadowski, jr., Coleman; Linnea Schmelzer, sr., Sturgeon Bay; Emily Simmons, jr., Pulaski; Wrenn Tanck, sr., Wrightstown; Kendell Truttman, sr., Denmark; Allison von Brevern, sr., Seymour; Marlena Wagner, sr., Lena; Brooklyn Wolosyn, fr., Niagara.