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SHS girls eye return to state tourney

The pressure is building for the Superior High School girls basketball team.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 playoffs begin tonight for the Spartans, and a return trip to the state tournament is in the team’s sights.

“Since the season started, we’ve had the pressure and expectations, but that’s something that we thrive on,” said Phil Roe, head coach of the Spartans. “I think the girls have handled it really well each week of the season and stayed pretty grounded.

“We’re not cocky but we are confident, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The Spartans advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament last year for the first time in 18 years, and only the second time in school history.

Superior returns most of its players from that team, including its top 3 scorers.

Jessica Lindstrom and Hailey Kontny lead way, averaging 21.7 and 19.5 points per game, respectively.

The seniors have been Superior’s two-man wrecking crew since earning starting roles in their freshman season. They are currently No. 1 and No. 2 on Superior’s all-time scoring list — for both boys and girls basketball players.

Kontny has a solid grip on the title of highest-scoring guard with 1,585 career points heading into the playoffs. She surpassed the career scoring mark set by boys basketball star Joel Lindberg earlier this season.

Lindstrom, meanwhile, is looking to become the first basketball player in school history to reach 2,000 career points. She has scored 477 points so far this season and enters the playoffs with a career total of 1,947.

“It’s pretty amazing that she’s even close to that number,” Roe said.

Superior opens the playoffs with a home game against Hudson at 7 p.m. today.

The Spartans (19-3) defeated Hudson 78-43 earlier this year, but Roe expects a tighter game this time.

“We’re not taking Hudson lightly,” Roe said. “They’re a really good team, and just a couple weeks ago they played a four-point game with Chippewa Falls. So they’re getting better as a team.”

The Raiders (9-13) finished their regular season fourth in the Big Rivers Conference standings but won two of their last three games. Hudson also dropped close matches with Chippewa Falls (four points) and Eau Claire Memorial (two points) late in the season.

“We have a lot of game film on them, and we’re preparing for what they do,” Roe said.

Leading scorers for Hudson are Kaylyn Jenkins and Lexi Jonas.

The winner of tonight’s game will play either No. 4 Marshfield or No. 5 Eau Claire Memorial in the regional finals Saturday.

The sectional semifinals are set for March 13 at Eau Claire Memorial, with Chippewa Falls predicted as the likely opponent.

In the lower half of the sectional bracket, Oshkosh North earned the No. 1 seed and Appleton North earned the No. 2 seed.

The sectional championship game will be played at 1 p.m. March 15 at Stevens Point.

“I think our section’s really strong,” Roes said. “We have three teams in the top 10 (rankings): D.C. Everest is 20-2, and Chippewa Falls is 19-3. Every game’s going to be a battle and we’ve got to be prepared for all of the teams.”

Last year, Superior met Chippewa Falls in the sectional semifinals and Oshkosh North in the finals. Both games ended with the Spartans eking out a three-point win.

“This is a very focused team,” Roe said. “These kids have really worked hard, and they’ve been focused on the goal of getting back to state the entire year.”

New and improved

The Spartan girls had a reunion of sorts this week when 2013 graduates Abby Clemons and Alison Wainionpaa stopped by practice.

Clemons and Wainionpaa rounded out Superior’s starting five last season and paid their old teammates a visit Tuesday to wish them luck.

“I was really surprised,” Kontny said. “I screamed and yelled when I saw them. It’s exciting to have them back, to have the starting five from just last year.

“It was a really good surprised. That was probably the best part of my day right there.”

The Spartans have been under great pressure to replicate their state tournament run from last season.

The close ties between the players gave Superior an edge in 2013, and this year’s team has built a similar camaraderie.

“I really like the younger players,” said senior Rachal Fregin. “They’re really fun, and they’re team players; all of them are.”

Fregin is one of six seniors playing for the Spartans. Kontny, Lindstrom, Taylor Nelson, Taylor Phillips and Missy Toland round out the group.

Alyssa Correll leads the junior class as a returning starter. She is the team’s top perimeter shooter and averages 13.8 points per game.

The remainder of Superior’s team had little varsity experience heading into this season.

“I think we had some new girls that were kind of thrown into the fire right away, especially with our early season schedule as tough as it was; and they really responded,” Roe said. “I think this year’s team has a little more depth and a little more quickness.”

The newer players have meshed well with the team, Fregin said, from juniors like Elizabeth Kolanczyk and Malley O’Brien to freshmen like Ellie Leadstrom.

“It is pretty different, but it’s the same too,” Fregin said. “Everyone works well together and we all like playing with each other.”

Two standouts among the newcomers are junior Tailor Schuster and sophomore Mackenzie Kmecik.

“Tailor Schuster really has been big for rebounding,” Fregin said. “And guarding posts. Jess doesn’t get in foul trouble as much as she used to.”

Kmecik has added more firepower to Superior’s already powerful offense. The sophomore is one of the youngest players on the roster, but she has stepped up this season to become the Spartans’ fourth leading scorer, averaging eight points per game.

“I think our team is more of an offensive threat,” Lindstrom said. “We’re working on defense this week, because we need to, but we always have five girls on the court that can score from anywhere. I think that’s something to our advantage.”

The Spartans are also hoping their experience from last year — and their No. 1 seeding this year — will boost them to a second consecutive state tournament appearance.

“It’s like the last hurrah for me and my fellow senior teammates,” Kontny said. “I know we’re determined to get there, and we’re happy to be sitting where we’re sitting with the No. 1 seed.

“Right now we just have to work hard and hope everything goes our way.”

All-conference team

Lindstrom, Kontny and Correll were named to the Lake Superior Conference All-Conference team. All three were named to the first team.

Lake Superior Conference

2014 Girls All-Conference Team

First Team

Jessica Lindstrom, 12, Superior; Hailey Kontny, 12, Superior; Kassidy Steen, 10, Cloquet; Nicole Huber, 11, Ashland; Alyssa Correll, 11, Superior.

Second Team

Lexi Hill, 12, Duluth Denfeld; Emily Neumann, 12, Hermantown; Carly Hanson, 12, Hermantown; Sammy Zeadow, 12, Cloquet; Shania Bolen, 10, Hermantown

Honorable Mention

Lexie DeWall, Proctor; Sophie Habas, Ashland; Brianna Westendorf, Proctor; Bridget Tesser, Proctor; Maddie Eyer, Marshall; Kaylee McMillen, Cloquet