STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: A jinx or a blessing?Late-season loss to Hayward fuels Superior girls in playoff run
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In the history of Superior High School girls basketball, only two teams have advanced to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 State Tournament.
Combined, those teams went 14-3 against Wisconsin opponents in the regular season.
The current Spartans lost just once — to the Hayward Hurricanes.
In 1995, the Spartans lost twice — to Eau Claire Memorial … and Hayward.
“I actually didn’t remember that we beat them then too — in 1995,” said David Lee, head coach of the Hayward girls basketball team. “We’ve always had good match-ups with them. I think for both of us, it’s been a real good game outside of the conference.”
Hayward, a Division 3 school, has earned its bragging rights this year.
Where others have failed, the Hurricanes have succeeded. Twice.
In 1995, Superior and Hayward faced off to open the regular season. The Hurricanes emerged victorious, 60-51. Only Duluth East and Cloquet managed to put up more points against Superior during the regular season.
Superior and Hayward played in the final game of the regular season this year. The score was 31-29 in Superior’s favor after three quarters, but Hayward delivered in the final minutes for the 40-38 win.
Hayward is the only team to hold Superior below 40 points this season. The Hurricanes also shut down Superior’s leading scorers, holding both Jessica Lindstrom and Hailey Kontny about seven points below their season averages.
“We were fortunate to beat them. They’re obviously a very good team,” Lee said. “Superior was a little bit off that night too, which helped.”
But Superior’s struggles were not wholly self-inflicted. Much of the trouble stemmed from Hayward’s 2-3 zone defense.
“I thought that was the only way we could slow them down was a zone,” Lee said. “They’re a very tough team to match up with man-to-man.”
The plan worked, and soon Lee was taking calls from excited Division 1 coaches. Both of Superior’s regional opponents, Hudson and Eau Claire North, contacted Lee. They wanted to know exactly what the Hurricanes had done.
Superior, meanwhile, was doing some soul-searching.
“It was good that we lost,” said senior Abby Clemons said. “We needed that.”
Clemons said the loss humbled the team and led to the best two weeks of practice they’d had all year.
“It made us more modest,” said senior Alison Wainionpaa. “Just because we’ve pulled off tight wins, we’re not always guaranteed a win. I think it helped us realize that we need to dig deeper.”
The loss also highlighted an apparent weakness in Superior’s offense.
Head coach Phil Roe went to work, and the Spartans spent two weeks learning new plays to prepare for their next test against a 2-3 zone.
Both regional opponents used a 2-3 zone defense against Superior. Against Hudson, Superior focused on its perimeter shooting and jumped out to a 46-18 halftime lead. The Spartans used the same strategy to build an 18-4 lead against Eau Claire North in the regional finals. During the two-game stretch, Superior made 16 3-pointers.
“Honestly, I think that loss was a blessing in disguise,” said Kontny. “Having a loss at the end of the season, we were on that run and we beat all those team and we were just so confident in ourselves. … Losing to Hayward definitely brought it into our eyes that any team can beat us.
“They’re a really good team. They can play. They played a really good zone against us, and I honestly think that benefited us. We came back and we practiced and we worked hard and we learned from the experience.”
Roe agrees. Looking back at the Hayward loss, he now sees it as a turning point for Superior.
“I think it happened for a reason, and the reason it happened was so that we’d get focused and working on better zone formations and breaking the zone,” Roe said. “At the end of that game I told the girls a new season is starting right now. Now everyone’s 0-0, and who’s going to work the hardest will make a run at getting to state. The girls worked hard mentally and physically, and that’s why we’re able to go to Green Bay right now.”
Hayward missed out on a trip to state with a section semifinal loss to Ladysmith, but the Hurricanes still have an interest in this weekend’s tournament.
“To beat a Division 1 team that had been ranked all year and has some very good D-I prospects on the team is something to hang our hats on through the season,” Lee said.
“Certainly they’re a very good team. I’m happy to see them go to state, and we’ll be watching them and cheering for them.”