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Prep girls basketball: Tigers test their mettle, push West Salem down to the wire

The opportunity to play high-caliber teams that are outside the Heart O' North Conference is the main reason the Tigers were excited to play in the tournament.

Northwestern’s Shayna Wick (21) scores over St. Croix Falls’ Ayla Schmidt (1)
Northwestern’s Shayna Wick (21) scores over St. Croix Falls’ Ayla Schmidt (1) in the first half of the game in Maple on Thursday evening, Dec. 8. Wick scored 22 points over the course of two games for the Tigers during the Holiday Classic winter tournament in West Salem.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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WEST SALEM, Wis. — The Northwestern girls basketball traveled to West Salem over winter break to face-off against two strong southern Wisconsin opponents, including the undefeated host of the Holiday Classic.

“With it being our first year at the tournament we didn’t really know what to expect, but we knew both of these games were important for seeding purposes,” said senior point guard Tieryn Plasch.

The Tigers faced a tough La Crosse Logan team where two players, Jazzy Davis and Aaliyah Hamilton, were able to get double-doubles in points and rebounds. After a very close first-half match-up, Northwestern began to play fast in the second half and even implemented a new level of defensive pressure.

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“We had worked on a little three-quarter press, and we played it in both games with some success. It just gives us more flexibility defensively,” said coach Paul Eberhardt.

At the bottom of that press was 6-footer Gabby Risley, who recorded seven blocks in the first game. On top was the quick Shayna Wick who turned turnovers into quick transition layups for 12 points to help the Tigers earn a 64-55 victory on the first day.

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In the final game on Monday, Dec. 28, West Salem defeated Adams-Friendship 65-27 to force a match-up against the Tigers.

The Panthers rolled into the game with an undefeated, 8-0 record. The opportunity to play high-caliber teams that are outside the Heart O' North Conference is the main reason the Tigers were excited to play in the tournament.

“It was really good for us to play teams that challenge us. As a team, we get better when we play better teams,” said Risley, a senior.

Defensively the Tigers played well in both games and against a strong West Salem team, they kept the score within five points going into halftime.

Northwestern’s Abby Johnson (32) collides with St. Croix Falls’ Brianna McCurdy (14) as they both go after a loose ball
Northwestern’s Abby Johnson (32) collides with St. Croix Falls’ Brianna McCurdy (14) as they both go after a loose ball in the first half of the game in Maple on Thursday evening, Dec. 8. Johnson is the Tigers' leading rebounder.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

However, a glaring hole in Northwestern’s game was on display in the West Salem gym.

“We are not a big team nor are we extremely physical, so we have to compete at a high level to keep teams off the offensive glass,” said Eberhardt.

The Tigers' lower physicality was highlighted by the two leading scorers for the Panthers, senior Anna McConkey and sophomore Megan Johnson who both notched double-doubles in points and rebounds. Their many second-chance points became too much for the Tigers.

It didn’t help the Tigers that with nine minutes remaining, their leading rebounder Abby Johnson fouled out of the game.

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Without Abby Johnson, Megan Johnson was given the chance to put the game away scoring the last of her 24 points for the game. She was followed by McConkey, who made the final free throws and chipped in 15 points during the contest, as West Salem won by a score of 60-55.

For the Tigers, Risley and Wick both scored 22 points over the course of the two games.

Risley's blocks and Wick's defensive pressure helped the Tigers defeat La Crosse Logan and forced West Salem into their closest game of the entire season.

“After having a few days off for Christmas it was important for us to remind everyone about our goals and to see what we’re going to have to do to get there,” said Plasch, who finished the tournament with 45 points to lead the Tigers.

Overall, the tournament helped the Tigers in a variety of ways, Eberhardt said.

“We got an opportunity to play a couple of good high-level games and the team gets the opportunity to spend more quality time together and grow as a more cohesive team,” he said.

Jeffrey McClure is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He contributes to the Superior Telegram as a freelance reporter.
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