Spartans seek state repeat
Expectations for the Superior High School girls basketball team are the highest they've ever been.
The Spartan girls are coming off a 23-4 season and their first trip to the WIAA Division 1 State Girls Basketball Tournament in 18 years. Superior's season ended in the state semifinals, but the Spartans are hoping for a return to Green Bay's Resch Center this spring.
"We want to make it one game further than we did last year, and that's the championship game," said Phil Roe, SHS head coach. "We have girls that bring a lot of years of varsity experience, and we have seniors who've been to state. They want to go one game further; they want to make it to the championship and win it."
Superior returns three of its starters from 2012-13: seniors Jessica Lindstrom and Hailey Kontny and junior Alyssa Correll.
Kontny and Lindstrom are both four-year starters. They led the team in scoring, rebounds and assists last year and are the first pair of 1,000-point scorers to play for the Spartans simultaneously.
Barring injury, Lindstrom and Kontny will hold the top two places on Superior's career scoring list by the end of the season.
Lindstrom enters the season as Superior's all-time leading scorer with 1,470 points. Kontny is third with 1,156 points. She needs only 157 points to take over the No. 2 slot.
Both seniors drew national collegiate interest, but they start the season with their college decisions already behind them. In November, Lindstrom signed a national letter of intent to play for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Kontny signed to play for the University of Minnesota Duluth.
"I think they're relieved to have that college decision out of the way," Roe said. "Some kids wait their whole senior year and it becomes a distraction to them and the team."
For Lindstrom and Kontny, their sole focus is returning to the state tournament and advancing to the championship game.
"One of our goals is to put a gold ball into the trophy case, so we just want to go to state and get a shot at that," Kontny said.
"We have to get to the next level," Lindstrom said. "You can't just repeat history; you have to make it better."
With Correll, Kontny and Lindstrom, Superior returns most of its scoring from last season. Lindstrom put up 21 points and 16.5 rebounds per game, while Kontny averaged 15.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. Correll averaged 10.9 points per game and led the team in 3-point shooting.
"I think we're a lot more comfortable with each other and have bonded a lot through the last year," Correll said. "We're working hard together and pushing each other to do our best."
Senior Rachal Fregin is also expected to take on a bigger role for the Spartans this season. She has been playing with her senior teammates since middle school and will provide some added height and perimeter shooting for Superior.
"Since we have been playing together for so long, we have such good team chemistry and we know how each other play," Fregin said. "It's been easy to go off each other, to make each other better."
Juniors Tailor Schuster and Elizabeth Kolancyk and sophomore McKenzie Kmecik also bring varsity experience and are expected to contribute this year.
One new player to watch is junior Malley O'Brien. She returned to basketball this year after taking time off to focus on soccer.
"She's a really good athlete. She's going to add a new dimension for our team," Roe said. "We'll be a little quicker and we can do some new things with her defensively."
The team won't have long to find its footing. Superior has stepped up its regular season schedule and faces a number of challenging opponents in the first month of play.
"We'll know in December real quick," Roe said. "We have the toughest part of our schedule, which is kind of crazy."
The Spartans open the season today at Duluth Denfeld and then play their first home game at 8 p.m. Friday against Marshfield, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in 2012.
Also in the month of December, the Spartans will play Chisago Lakes (Minn.), Chippewa Falls, D.C. Everest and Wausau West.
"This is the first year we play everyone in the section," Roe said.
Chippewa Falls will travel to Superior on Dec. 20, and the Spartans will play D.C. Everest and Wausau West during the holiday tournament Dec. 27- 28, which Superior is hosting.
Superior's trip to state last season took it through Hudson and Eau Claire North in the regionals and Chippewa Falls and Oshkosh North in the sectionals.
Against Chippewa Falls, the Spartans won by just three points. In the regular season, Superior pulled off an even narrower victory, defeating Chippewa Falls by two points in the final seconds.
At this year's game in Superior, the Spartan girls are hoping fans will turn out for what should be another exciting match.
"I feel like people are going to want to watch girls basketball," Kontny said. "They know that we can succeed in our sport, and it's our last year for us seniors. We're going to be giving it all we have in order to get there."
Boys hockey coach Jason Kalin has a special gift from the girls basketball team in his classroom this year: an autographed poster of a basketball blotting out a hockey puck.
The girls designed the poster as a joke, but Kalin proudly hung it on his wall.
In a city where hockey is still the undisputed king, basketball has been gaining ground. Lindstrom said her first-hour teacher, Marc Campbell, has gone so far as to decree Superior a "basketball town" now.
"People are looking forward to hockey season -- they are, they always do -- but people are really looking forward to basketball season now too," Lindstrom said.
The increased interest bodes well for the future the basketball program.
Roe said the Spartan girls have deep teams this year, from the freshman level all the way to the varsity squad.
"I had a record number at tryouts. We had 50 girls," Roe said. "Twenty-six freshmen tried out. We've never seen that at the school, so it's pretty cool.
"It's a new era, I think. We have a lot more excitement."
Superior Girls Basketball
2. Elizabeth Kolancyk Jr. F
3. Alyssa Correll Jr. G
4. McKenzie Kmecik So. G
11. Missy Toland Sr. G
12. Malley O'Brien Jr. G
13. Rachal Fregin Sr. G
21. Jessica Lindstrom Sr. G/F
25. Hailey Kontny Sr. G
30. MaryLynne Leadstrom Jr. F
32. Tailor Schuster Jr. G/F
41. Taylor Nelson Sr. F
42. Taylor Phillips Sr. C