STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: A celebration 18 years in the makingWhen a final 3-point attempt bounced off the rim and the buzzer sounded Saturday, the Superior High School girls basketball team swarmed the court to celebrate its 54-51 sectional final victory over Oshkosh North.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
When a final 3-point attempt bounced off the rim and the buzzer sounded Saturday, the Superior High School girls basketball team swarmed the court to celebrate its 54-51 sectional final victory over Oshkosh North.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion right away,” said senior Alison Wainionpaa. “We all piled together and started crying. But it’s amazing. It’s everything we’ve been striving for this whole time.”
Trips to the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament have been a rarity for the Spartan girls. Until this season, only one team had advanced to state.
That distant event, now 18 years in the past, is little more than folklore to the current Spartan team.
“I wasn’t born yet,” said senior Natalie Kintop. “I was born in June.”
Seniors Alison Wainionpaa and Abby Clemons said they may have witnessed Superior’s last trip to state, but they can’t share any stories. They were only infants.
Sarah Haasis (Matson), has a clearer memory of Superior’s inaugural state tournament. She now teaches English at Moose Lake High School, but in 1995 Haasis was the starting center on the Spartan basketball team.
“I can’t believe that it’s been that long since we were playing in the state tournament,” Haasis said. “When you say it’s been that long it just makes me feel old.”
Haasis was a junior on the 1994-95 team and led Superior in scoring, along with point guard Greta Nelson. During her senior year she became the first Spartan girl to cross the 1,000-point threshold, and she is currently fourth on the all-time scoring list with 1,093 career points.
“It’s great to see these girls finally make it back there,” Haasis said. “It will be an experience they’ll never forget. They’ve worked hard and deserve it.”
Haasis speaks from personal experience. In 1995, no one expected a girls basketball team from Superior to make the state tournament, Haasis said. But the Spartans proved their critics wrong, beating Eau Claire North, Menomonie and Eau Claire Memorial before finally defeating Wausau East 51-42 in the sectional finals.
On March 23, Haasis will be honored along with her 1994-95 girls basketball teammates when they are inducted into the Superior High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s an incredible honor for our team to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and with the girls going to state, the timing couldn’t be better,” Haasis said. “We had a team that always played together, and we couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated, knowledgeable or caring coach than Mr. (Tom) Mestelle. He taught us we could do anything if we worked hard and worked together.”
The 1994-95 Spartans finished the year with a 17-8 record. They were 13-7 in the regular season, including 7-5 in Lake Superior Conference play for a third-place finish. Duluth East won the conference title.
Basketball in Superior has changed since then.
The Spartans went 8-0 in conference play this season to win the LSC title and hold a 23-3 record heading into the state tournament.
Superior opens play in the Division 1 WIAA State Tournament at 8:15 p.m. today against Milwaukee Riverside at the Resch Center in Green Bay. The winner of the semifinal match advances to the championship game, scheduled for 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
“I’ve been to several games this season and wasn’t surprised to see them make it all the way to state,” Haasis said. “If they play the way they are capable of playing, they could win the whole thing.”
This marks this first year the girls tournament will be held in Green Bay rather than at the Kohl Center in Madison.
When Superior went to sate in 1995, teams played at the UW-Madison Fieldhouse. Eight teams qualified in Division 1, and play began with four quarterfinal games for the large schools.
The Spartans fell to La Crosse Central in the quarterfinal round, 61-40. Superior began the game a bit wide-eyed before the crowd of nearly 4,500 and trailed La Crosse Central 14-2 after one quarter. Superior came back to score 15 points in the second quarter, but La Crosse Central maintained a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game.
The Red Raiders eventually reached the championship game but lost to Milwaukee Washington, 72-56.
This year’s team hopes to give Superior its first state tournament win.
Superior earned a place in the final four with playoff victories over Hudson, Eau Claire North, Chippewa Falls and Oshkosh North. The WIAA eliminated the Division 1 quarterfinal round in 2011.