Eric Spielman had plenty good reason to be optimistic, though with a pinch of caution, just a week and a half into the season.
His Sheboygan North girls basketball team had just posted a 52-44 decision over two-time defending conference champion De Pere — still among the Golden Raiders’ most impressive wins so far this year — and was off to a solid 4-0 start.
Still, Spielman knew then that it was much too early to make much ado about his team’s fortunes.
“It’s a marathon of a season,” the team’s coach said at the time, “and we’re off to a good start.”
If the season is a marathon, then North has reached mile marker 13 (or thereabouts). The team isn’t just undefeated four games into the campaign anymore — it’s undefeated 10 games in.
By now, it’s safe to say Spielman’s girls have found a way to achieve something that so often eludes teams that begin their seasons hot: They’ve so far managed to avoid a slump. With just 12 more games left on the regular season schedule, North has a hold on the Fox River Classic Conference’s first-place spot and a top-of-the-pecking-order Associated Press ranking.
Still, Spielman is keeping an air of cautious optimism about his team. It isn’t time yet, after all, to settle into cruise control.
“I guess I’d say my thoughts are fairly similar” to what they were after the De Pere game, he said on Wednesday night, noting he’s pleased with his team’s progress but knows there’s more work ahead. “I think it’s always difficult as a coach because you’re always trying to have your players in the right mindset for continued success.”
It may not be time yet to gloat over successes when the halfway point of the regular season hasn’t quite arrived yet. Still, there have been some big bright spots so far.
The state’s basketball pollsters seem to have taken notice of the team’s success. Earlier this week, the Golden Raiders crept up to a No. 2 spot in the AP’s Division 1 poll, an improvement from the team’s No. 3 ranking a week earlier. A WisSports.net coaches poll this week put North at No. 2.
And the impressive wins have kept coming. North’s 10 wins so far this season have come by an average margin of more than 15 points. On three occasions, North has posted wins by 24 points or more.
Earlier this month, North escaped Green Bay with a 46-38 win against Notre Dame, then the state’s top-ranked Division 2 team in the WisSports.net coaches poll.
North still has a few more tests this season. Perhaps the team’s toughest challenge (at least on paper) will be a rematch against De Pere, this time on the road, in late February. A date with Kettle Moraine Lutheran, currently ranked third in the AP’s Division 3 poll, may be worth circling on the calendar, too. And Pulaski later this month and Bay Port on Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be pushovers either.
“I think it’s easy to look quite a ways down the road. …” Spielman said Wednesday, noting he’s trying to keep his players focused on keeping a day-to-day approach to the season. “I still think the success of a season still comes down to your daily interactions with your teammates as much as anything.”
1. Plymouth (11-3)
2. Sheb. Lutheran (11-2)
3. Oostburg (8-4)
4. Sheb. South (7-6)
5. Howards Grove (8-6)
1. Sheb. North (10-0)
2. Oostburg (8-3)
3. Sheb. Christian (8-2)
4. Kiel (6-5)
5. Plymouth (7-7)