The De Pere girls basketball players and coaches know all the clichés and say all the right things.
They take things one game at a time and give 100 percent.
But the Redbirds have passed every test thrown their way this season and there’s no denying they have the make-up to win a second straight state championship, and defending that title is on their mind as they are just two games away from another state berth.
“The majority of these kids were on that team and they know what it’s going to take,” said De Pere coach Kelly McNiff. “They know the attitude and the focus we need in practices. I think all of that is going to help a lot and be a huge aid in getting to Green Bay and trying to defend it.
“We don’t talk a lot about defending the title. Last year was last year, but I think all of us, from staff to players, deep down that’s something important and something we’d all like to do.”
De Pere continued its seemingly inevitable march to the Resch Center as the top-ranked and undefeated Redbirds dispatched Green Bay Southwest 49-23 in a WIAA Division 1 regional final at De Pere High School on Saturday night.
The Redbirds certainly made a believer out of Southwest coach Casey Zakowski, who compared De Pere to another local high school basketball dynasty.
“They kind of remind me of Seymour’s program for the boys. The girls here have high expectations,” Zakowski said. “They expect to win and not only get it done during the regular season but in March. They have a great tradition, so they expect to go out there and dictate the game. They dictated the game to us tonight, there’s no doubt about it.”
Saturday’s game was won in typical De Pere fashion. The Redbirds allowed just two points in both the first and second quarters and took away any glimmer of hope for the Trojans early on. De Pere led 28-4 at the break and 42-9 after three quarters.
That defensive intensity is going to keep the Redbirds in any game, whether their offense is clicking or not.
If De Pere continues to play like it has so far during its 44-game winning streak, Zakowski said they could very well be hoisting the gold ball again – this time in their own back yard as the WIAA state tournament moves from Madison to Green Bay this year.
“They’re, in my eyes, definitely the favorite. They’ve won 40-some straight games and (they’re the) defending champs,” Zakowski said. “They’re playing at such a high level, especially on the defensive end. It’s going to take a damn good team to beat them.”
There are still plenty of challenges ahead for De Pere and Saturday’s win was just the precursor to its hardest games of the year.
Anything can happen in a win-or-go-home scenario, but the Redbirds seem ready for whatever comes their way and draw on their previous experience when they get in a tight spot.
“We definitely have confidence because we know how well we can play if we have everything together,” said De Pere senior Morgan Anderson. “We’ve all been there the last couple years. We know what it’s like on this big stage, this playoff stage, so we’re all ready and we take the underclassmen under our wings so they feel more confident too in their place.”
Natisha Hiedeman scored a game-high 14 points for Southwest (15-9).
Claire Emmerich paced De Pere (24-0) with 13 points, while Anderson scored 12. The Redbirds will take on Kimberly in a sectional semifinal on Thursday night.
Green Bay Southwest… 2 2 5 14 — 23
De Pere …8 20 14 7 — 49
Southwest: Hiedeman 14, Niccum 5, Zakowski 3, Steffens 1. 3-pt: Hiedeman. FT: 6-11. F: 9.
De Pere: Emmerich 13, Anderson 12, Dawson 6, Kuehn 5, Cerrato 4, Rabas 3, Miller 2, Bohrer 2, Splittgerber. 3-pt: Anderson 4, Rabas. FT: 8-13. F: 16.