STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: One goal down, one to go for Spartan girlsWith state tournament berth accomplished, part two of three-year goal is winning a state championship
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In 2010, a group of nine eighth-grade girls chattered excitedly at Superior Middle School. They laughed about their “battle scars” and talked about their favorite scary movies.
The conversation strayed far from basketball, but one question pulled all the girls quickly back on topic: What is your ultimate goal?
“When we’re juniors or seniors, it would be nice to go to state,” said Hailey Kontny, then in the eighth-grade.
Three years later, the Spartan girls have reached their goal.
Six of the nine players from the traveling team that claimed a Wisconsin Eighth-Grade Division 1 state title three years ago now play for the Superior High School varsity team. Added to that group are three seniors, three sophomores and one freshman to make up this year’s state-bound team.
“We really do all mesh together. We still do, even from back then,” Kontny said on Tuesday. “We’ve just worked so hard as a team. I know that we deserve this.”
The 2012-13 Spartans go down as just the second girls basketball team from Superior to advance to the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament.
Phil Roe, in his second year coaching the Spartan girls, said his team has earned every honor handed to it this season. The winning combination this year, he said, has been hard work and unselfish play.
“I’ve had seven different girls this year score in the double figures on any given night. Based on different match-ups, they can burn you,” Roe said. “Part of that is just playing unselfish basketball and making the extra pass. We have some great scorers, but what makes us good is they don’t care about if one girls scores 20 or another girl scores 25. What they care about is having 23 wins and going to Green Bay. How we get there and who scores what, that doesn’t matter.”
Most of the players were still trying to wrap their minds around their accomplishment during the team’s practice at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Tuesday. Senior Natalie Kintop said everyone was in tears after Superior won the sectional title, and the celebration seemed almost like a dream.
“I was obviously beyond excited that we won, but I feel like it didn’t really hit me that much,” said Kintop said. “I don’t even think it hit me until (Monday) when Coach Roe sat us down and was telling us the game plan. Then it was like, ‘Wow. We’re really going.’”
Superior (23-3) faces Milwaukee Riverside University High School (22-4) at 8:15 p.m. today at the Resch Center in Green Bay. In the other semifinal game, Arrowhead faces Mukwonago. The winners of both semifinal games will meet at 8:15 p.m. Saturday to determine the Division 1 champion.
Superior faces a strong and up-tempo team in Milwaukee Riverside. The Tigers went undefeated in the Milwaukee City-Gold Conference this year and enter the state tournament on a 21-game winning streak.
Three players average between 14 and 15 points for Milwaukee Riverside. Guard Amani Wilborn is the leading scorer with 15.7 points per game. Breanna Lewis, a 6-foot-5 center, averages 15.5 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, and Alona Johnson is the team’s leading 3-point shooter, averaging 14.8 points per game.
Jessica Lindstrom, at 6-foot-1, is the tallest player for Superior.
“I think we match up really well,” Roe said. “We’ve been undersized all year and battling big teams, so that’s not anything new that we haven’t been faced with. With Riverside, it’s basically about us sticking to the things that have gotten us to this place in four months, and that’s doing all the little things right.”
Roe said the Spartans will need to limit Milwaukee Riverside’s offensive rebounds and play strong defense to have a chance at winning.
He is also hopeful that Superior’s regular season experience against Twin Cities teams like Eden Prairie and DeLaSalle will help the Spartans know what to expect from Milwaukee Riverside.
“I think those two teams are more disciplined than Milwaukee Riverside, but they definitely get up and down the court quickly,” Roe said. “My girls aren’t going to be intimidated by playing against Milwaukee Riverside because we have played against some of the top teams in the Twin Cities area, and that helped prepare us.”
Lindstrom, Superior’s leading scoring, said she and her junior teammates have been preparing for their chance at state since they were in fifth-grade. Her father, Mitch Lindstrom, was one of three coaches who guided the eighth-grade traveling team to a state title.
For today’s game, she plans to follow the same advice that led a group of eighth-grade girls to a state title three years ago.
“Our next stop is a gold ball,” Lindstrom said. “My dad said the hard work will get you there, but you’ve got to push through until you get the actual ball.”
SPARTAN SPIN: In 2010, the Superior eighth-grade girls traveling team defeated Franklin 63-57 for the state title. Milwaukee Riverside defeated Franklin 69-59 this year in the sectional finals to advance to state. … Before every game, the SHS girls say they listen to “Thrift Shop” by Macklem0ore & Ryan Lewis. … Jessica Lindstrom has never played at the Resch Center before, but she is familiar with the venue. She watched her older sister, Lindsey Lindstrom, play on the court once for Michigan Tech. “So I’ve been there. I know what it’s like,” Jessica Lindstrom said. “It’s a huge place, but a cool atmosphere, definitely.”