Editor’s note: Following is the final part of a series recognizing our Girls Basketball Player of the Year and Coach of the Year Wisconsin from our winter sports season. On Wednesday, Gannett Central Wisconsin Media will announce its top student athletes, coaches and teams of the year for all seasons of the 2013-2014 school year.
Neillsville girls basketball coach John Gaier may have summed it up best when describing star guard Jenny Lindner.
“When the bright lights come on great players make big plays,” the veteran coach said.
Lindner, a unanimous first-team all-state selection had the performance of the WIAA state girls basketball tournament in the state semifinals against Brodhead. The senior scored 33 points, — and set a Division 3 state record by making 18 of 19 free throws in a 51-43 victory in a battle of unbeatens.
“I just knew I had to make something happen,” Lindner said, who is going to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on a full scholarship. “The atmosphere, we had been at state the past three years, so I knew what to expect and wasn’t nervous at all. I just stepped up and that’s what we needed.”
Added Gaier, “It was just a phenomenal performance and a great matchup. To have the No. 1 team all year, play the No. 2 team, both teams with Division I players, (Brodhead’s Carly Mohns is going to Iowa) it was just a testament to what kind of player Jenny is. She hates to lose. I said this before, if you want to play with five players that like to win against five players that hate to lose, give me the team that hates to lose every time.”
For her efforts this season, Jenny Lindner has been named Gannett Central Wisconsin Media’s player of the year and John Gaier has been named Coach of the Year. Lindner leads a talented all-area first team, in which, all five players have Division I scholarship offers or have committed to Division I schools.
Lindner (UW-M), Renee Sladek (Northern Illinois), Emma Roenneburg (UW-M), Taylor Hodell (offer from Oral Roberts) and Jasmin Samz (multiple D-I offers including UW-M and Marquette) lead a talented collection of local players.
Gaier, who led the Warriors to a 27-1 record, earned the top coach honors.
Despite losing the championship game, Lindner’s semifinal performance capped a stellar career in which she led the Warriors to the state tournament three times, including a state title her sophomore season. In that undefeated year, Lindner scored 14 points in the state semifinals against Howards Grove and added eight points and four assists in the Division 4 title game against Oshkosh Lourdes as the Warriors raised the gold ball.
“That was the best experience of my life, winning state,” Lindner said. “It was great to play in that atmosphere at the Resch Center and win a title for this program and our community.”
Lindner is part of senior class lost just five games at Neillsville, two of those losses coming at state. Before 2012 the program had never won a state tournament game. Lindner, a four-time Cloverbelt Conference-East Division player of the year, averaged 17.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
“I don’t think a lot of people associated Neillsville basketball with winning, but we have kind of changed that perception,” Lindner said. “Winning state my sophomore year was an amazing experience. It changed everyone’s outlook and showed all the underclassmen that it is possible.”
In 2013 Lindner scored 26 points in a D-3 state semifinal loss to East Troy. In five state tournament games in three years, Lindner averaged over 18 points per game.
“She is just a special player,” Gaier said. “She was brought up around the game and was very blessed to have good physial size and ability. Her and that entire senior class was just special to coach.”
Lindner is excited to continue her career to UW-Milwaukee. She noticed a difference in her game after making the commitment official.
“After I committed (to UW-Milwaukee) I didn’t have to worry and just felt more relaxed on the court. Their staff came and watched my games and I knew I was supported. It was tough before you commit, because it is kind of nerve-racking. But after make the decision (to commit) I was more comfortable on the court.”
Gaier helped turn around a program that had a hard time just competing in games. Twelve years ago he took over the team less than a week before the start of the season. The Warriors have become a perennial contender over the past decade.
“I never dreamed of being this successful,” Gaier said. “I had a daughter playing at the time as a senior. It was more of a stop-gap solution. But that first year I took over we lost to Newman, who went on to win state, by just a point in the regional finals. Now we have won nine straight conference titles, won a state title and brought home a silver ball.”
Gaier, who has a 257-40 record at Neillsville, is unsure if he will return for a 13th season with Warriors.
“It was an honor to play for coach Gaier,” Lindner said. “He did more than just teach basketball. He was there for anything we needed, from college decisions or personal problems. He taught us life lessons.”