The Little Chute girls’ basketball team finally got over the immovable objects this season that have stood in the way in the Eastern Valley Conference.
Now the Mustangs will have to do it all over again to reach their next major goal.
Little Chute (17-3), which won its first conference title since 1993-1994 this season, was rewarded with a No. 1 seed in Division 3 on Sunday for the WIAA playoffs, which get underway Feb. 24.
Hortonville, which has clinched at least a share of the Fox Valley Association title in its first season in the league, earned a No. 1 seed in Division 2, and Appleton North, which beat Kimberly on Friday, earned a No. 1 seed in Division 1.
“Given that we are 14-1 in the conference, we were certainly hoping for a one seed, but obviously we’re very excited,” Little Chute coach Jim Neubert said. “Our conference is tough and for us to get through conference 14-1 and get a one seed, that’s two of our goals we had when the season started.”
Neubert said before the season that the only way the Mustangs would be able to achieve their goal of winning the Eastern Valley title this season would be to finally beat Xavier, Freedom and Fox Valley Lutheran.
The Mustangs lost to Freedom in the conference opener, but have rattled off 14 consecutive league wins since, including beating Xavier 45-40 and 46-44, and topping Fox Valley Lutheran 57-47 and 39-27.
“In the past I don’t know how many years, it’s been Xavier, Freedom or FVL,” Neubert said. “Since I have been here, we had not beat Xavier or FVL. If you want to win, those are the three teams you have to compete with and they have set the bar in the EVC. It felt great and I thought our kids, after the first tough loss to Freedom real early, we’ve played well.
“We’re very healthy and, quite frankly, I think we’re playing some of our best ball right now. I really like where we are both defensively and offensively.”
It won’t be easy in the playoffs, as Little Chute faces potential matchups against Fox Valley Lutheran in the regional semifinals and either Xavier or Freedom in the regional final.
“Our sub-regional is one of the tougher regionals,” Neubert said. “You have us, Xavier, Freedom and FVL in the top four, so that’s tough to get out of. Whoever is playing the best ball is going to win that. A very quality team should leave our sub-regional.”
Hortonville (18-3) cemented its No. 1 seed with victories over Oshkosh North and Neenah last week.
“It was kind of one of those things where anything can happen, but after our two wins this week I thought it kind of sealed it,” Hortonville coach Jeff Chew said of the top seed. “If we would have lost two this week, I thought the door was wide open.”
A potential regional final matchup against longtime Bay Conference foe New London would be Feb. 28, but this time it would be on Hortonville’s home court.
“It was nice to get the No. 1 seed in regionals,” Chew said. “New London’s had the No. 1 seed for a while and we’ve been trying to get it away from them. They’ve always had the home court and now we get it.”
Chew said his team is rounding into shape for the playoffs after a few tough weeks.
“We’ve dealt with a couple injuries and a couple weeks of illness,” he said. “We played through that and won the games. It’s been a nice situation this year where people have stepped up. We’re getting to the point now where everyone is getting back to healthy and playing what they did early in the year so, yeah, we’re looking forward to it.”
Appleton North (13-8) is in third place in the FVA, but the Lightning has won five in a row and seven of its last eight, including a 32-30 victory over Kimberly on Friday.
Coach Joe Russom says the top seed is a nice bonus for his young team.
“I think it’s a great confidence boost for the kids,” Russom said. “They’ve worked so hard to progress throughout the year. It’s just nice to be recognized for their success.
“They’re an even-keeled group. They’re not overly dramatic one way or the other. We just take it one game at a time. They really see the bigger picture in terms of getting better as a team and as individuals.”
(SEEDS IN PARENTHESES)
Tuesday, Feb. 24: Appleton East (9) at Fond du Lac (8).
Friday, Feb. 27: Appleton East-Fond du Lac winner at Appleton North (1), Oshkosh North (5) at Appleton West (4), Oshkosh West (7) at Neenah (2), Hartford (6) at Kimberly (3).
Tuesday, Feb. 24: Waupaca (5) at Shawano (4), Luxemburg-Casco (5) at Kaukauna (4), West Bend West (9) at Menasha (8).
Friday, Feb. 27: Waupaca-Shawano winner at Hortonville (1), Antigo (3) at New London (2), Seymour (3) at Green Bay Southwest (2), Luxemburg-Casco-Kaukauna winner at West De Pere (1), West Bend West-Menasha winner at Cedarburg (1).
Tuesday, Feb. 24: Oconto Falls (5) at Clintonville (4), Winneconne (5) at Fox Valley Lutheran (4), Omro (6) at Freedom (3), Berlin (7) at Xavier (2), Kewaunee (5) at Wrightstown (4), Chilton (5) at Oostburg (4).
Friday, Feb. 27: Winneconne-Fox Valley Lutheran winner at Little Chute (1), Wrightstown-Kewaunee winner at Roncalli (1), Chilton-Oostburg winner at Kiel (1).
Tuesday, Feb. 24: Manawa (6) at Iola-Scandinavia (3), Gibraltar (5) at Brillion (4), Green Lake/Princeton (5) at Weyauwega-Fremont (4), St. Mary Central (6) at Oshkosh Lourdes (3).
Friday, Feb. 27: Manawa-Iola-Scandinavia winner at Shiocton (2), Brillion-Gibraltar winner at Algoma (1), Green Lake/Princeton-Weyauwega-Fremont winner at Fond du Lac Springs (1), St. Mary Central-Oshkosh Lourdes winner at Markesan (2).
Tuesday, Feb. 24: Stockbridge (6) at Sheboygan Lutheran (3).
Friday, Feb. 27: Stockbridge-Sheboygan Lutheran winner at Hilbert (2).
— Mike Sherry: 920-993-1000, ext. 289, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @MikeSherry14