The De Pere girls basketball team played an inspired version of it this season to reach the WIAA state tournament for the first time since 2012.
The Redbirds enter the Resch Center allowing only 38.8 points per game, which is the lowest average among the Division 1 and 2 teams in the state field.
The source of De Pere’s defensive prowess is easy to trace. The energy undoubtedly emanates from senior Lauren DeMille.
“She is a big reason why we are doing so well,” De Pere senior guard Olivia DeCleene said. “She definitely has been part of it the whole way.”
Before the Redbirds (24-2) take the court at 8:15 p.m. Friday for a Division 1 state semifinal game against Middleton, DeMille will hand out a note of encouragement to each of her teammates.
Those little messages have made a huge impact for De Pere, which was dealt a tough blow in its second game when DeMille went down with a season-ending knee injury.
De Pere coach Jeremy Boileau classified the 5-foot-8 senior as the team’s best defensive stopper, possessing the speed and athleticism to match up with the opposition’s best guard but also the length and toughness to mix it up in the paint with post players.
“It was going to be a hurdle to get them back mentally,” said Boileau, who is a first-year coach. “I had to get them to believe that we could still get this done.”
The positive attitude and bright smile DeMille continued to bring to the team while she was dealing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament is what ultimately made De Pere believe in its abilities.
The Redbirds won the Fox River Classic Conference title by allowing a conference-low 37.6 points per game and are riding a 16-game winning streak into their first state tournament played at the Resch Center, which became the host venue in 2013.
“Without her support, we would not be where we are today,” De Pere senior Lizzie Miller said of DeMille.
“We each had to buy in to our new role because she was a big part of our defense. Our team is still a pretty good defensive team, but we all needed to figure out what we needed to do to step up to make up for what she brought to us.”
After missing last season with a torn ACL, Miller returned to average 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game to earn FRCC player of the year honors.
As special as it will be to end their careers at state, De Pere’s six seniors will always remember the team’s season-opening win over Oshkosh West. It was the only game in their high school careers in which they were all healthy and able to play a full game together.
Miller, DeCleene, Anna Boyd, Lexi Cerrato and Liz Nies all have DeMille’s No. 10 written on their sneakers. It’s the seniors’ way of having their teammate on the court with them in every situation.
“I always tell her I’m playing for her,” said DeCleene, who is averaging 2.7 steals per game and was named the FRCC defensive player of the year.
Following a .500 season last year, the Redbirds were focused on getting the program back to where it is used to being.
This will be De Pere’s eighth state appearance, including the team’s sixth since 2005.
If there is anybody that understands the tradition and history of De Pere basketball, it’s DeMille. Her mother, Julie (Turriff), was a part of the Redbirds’ first state team in 1982.
Nies’ mother, Karen (Switzer), was also a member of the 1982 squad and the 1983 team that won De Pere’s first of three state titles.
This year’s version of the Redbirds know they face an uphill challenge to win the program’s fourth state championship.
Middleton (23-3) is making its seventh state appearance since 2008. Middleton’s senior class defeated De Pere’s seniors for a youth state title in 2010.
The winner of Friday’s game would advance to the D1 state championship to face the winner of a battle of unbeaten teams between Appleton North (26-0) and Milwaukee King (25-0).
“We can’t settle,” Boileau said. “Nothing for us changes. It’s the same mindset. All that matters for us is Middleton. We’re planning on getting after it defensively like we’ve done all year long and really sticking together and understanding that anything is possible when we were there with each other and working hard.”
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