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Spartan girls advance to state

Superior's Hailey Kontny (25) celebrates with Mackenzie Kmecik (4) after Kmecik made a shot as she got fouled in the first half of the Spartans game with Neenah in Stevens Point on Saturday. The Spartans earned their second trip to state in two years with the win. (Jed Carlson/ / 20
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STEVENS POINT — For the second time in two years, the Superior High School girls basketball team is headed to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament.

The Spartans defeated the Neenah Rockets 82-69 Saturday in the Division 1 sectional finals to advance. Superior plays Mukwonago in the state semifinals Friday at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

“It was our goal since day one and we’re finally there,” said SHS sophomore Mackenzie Kmecik.

Kmecik, a first-year starter, tipped the scales in Superior’s favor Saturday. She led all scorers with 22-points — nearly three times her regular season average.

“That’s what to me was the ultimate deciding factor,” said Andy Braunel, Neenah head coach. “You know (Hailey) Kontny’s going to score, you know (Jessica) Lindstrom’s going to score. They’re scholarship-caliber athletes; they’re going to get theirs. You’ve got to try to limit everything else, and those girls took advantage of the opportunity.”

After two come-from-behind wins to reach the sectional finals, Superior jumped out to an early lead Saturday.

The Spartans won the tip, and Alyssa Correll made a crisp pass to Kmecik to give Superior a 2-0 lead four seconds into the game. Kauri Jensen took the ball inside for Neenah to tie the game on the next possession, but a second-chance shot and two transition layups by the Spartans gave Superior an 8-2 lead.

Neenah called a timeout and then answered with a run of its own. Rylee Engelland began the scoring when she cut through the lane for an open look in the paint. Leah Perras than converted on a three-point play, and Engelland did the same 13 seconds later to put the Rockets up 10-9.

The lead changed more five times before the end of the quarter, and the Engelland tied the game at 22-22 with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It’s been like that all year,” Braunel said. “They had to play through and they did. That says a lot about them.”

Superior and Neenah continued to trade the lead in the second quarter and the first half of the third quarter. The Rockets’ largest lead with 4:08 left in the second quarter, 34-29. Superior led by no more than four until the later part of the third quarter.

With 3:13 to play in the third quarter, Superior took the lead for good. Correll gave the Spartans a 55-54 advantage, and Kmecik followed with a mid-range jumper to make it 57-54.

Kmecik added a 3-pointer seconds later on a pass from Rachal Fregin, and Lindstrom took the ball inside on back-to-back possession to give the Spartans a 64-56 lead.

Superior led 65-58 at the end of the third quarter and pushed the lead into double figures early in the fourth quarter.

Neenah’s Kauri Jensen cut the lead to nine with 6:33 to play, but the Spartans answered with a long possession that ate up nearly two minutes.

“Neenah’s a team that’s come back on teams all year, and they’re one of the best pressing teams,” SHS coach Phil Roe said. “So we took a whole 1:45 possession and just wheeled around.

“We took time off the clock, and then we scored some layups against their press.”

The Spartans scored eight unanswered points to take a 77-60 lead with 2:23 to play. Neenah shaved a few points from Superior’s lead in the closing minutes but finished the game trailing 82-69.

Four Spartan players finished in double figures, led by Kmecik. The sophomore led all scorers in the second half with 14 points and finished the night with 22.

“She just went on fire,” Kontny said. “There was no one that could stop her.”

“She was awesome,” Lindstrom agreed. “I’m just so happy to be her teammate.”

Kontny and Lindstrom finished with 21 points each, and Correll added 15 points.

Engelland and Jensen both reached double figures for the Rockets, scoring 20 and 18 points, respectively.

Neenah loses seven seniors from this year’s team. Braunel, in his 10th year as head coach, said he doesn’t know if he’s ever had a better group to coach.

“That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye to them,” he said.

Superior has six seniors on its roster, and Saturday’s victory allows them to cross off one of their goals for the season.

“The seniors and I had a goal of being the first Spartan team, boys or girls, to every go back-to-back to state,” Roe said.

The Superior Central and Superior East boys basketball teams made consecutive trips to state on multiple occasions, but that feat has not been duplicated since the schools merged.

“That’s something,” Roe said. “Our school’s been around since 1965, and no basketball team’s done that.”

This week, the Spartans will prepare for the state opener against Mukwonago. The teams are scheduled to play at approximately 8:15 p.m. Friday.

“There’s no limit to what our team can do, especially if we believe in ourselves,” Kontny said. “We believe we can do it, and our goal is to get that gold ball.”

SPARTAN SPIN: Mukwonago and Superior are the only two team in the Division 1 field returning from last year’s state tournament. Mukwonago was the runner-up in 2013, falling to Milwaukee Riverside 55-41 in the championship game. … Neenah finished the season with a 17-9 record, which included a pair of losses to undefeated Kimberly. Kimberly faces Oak Creek in the other Division 1 state semifinal game Friday.

Superior................................... 22        23         20         17   —                   82

Neenah.................................... 22        20         16         11   —                   69

Superior — Mackenzie Kmecik 22, Jessica Lindstrom 21, Hailey Kontny 21, Alyssa Correll 15, Tailor Schuster 3.

3-point goals — Kmecik 2, Kontny, Correll.

Neenah — Rylee Engelland 20, Kauri Jensen 18, Kelsi Meyer 9, Alyssa Barnes 7, Leah Perras 6, Bree Zehren 3, Jordan Werner 2, Carly Robers 2, Hannah Hoffman 2.

3-point goals — Engelland 3, Barnes, Zehren.