WAUPACA — Nothing stings quite like a loss, but Taylor Schmidt believes in second chances.
Schmidt was a sophomore when Algoma fell in the state championship game two years ago. Last year, she tore her ACL and watched from the bench as the Wolves dropped a two-point heartbreaker in the sectionals.
Last weekend, one of her grandfathers died.
Saturday night, the Packerland Conference Player of the Year did what she’s done all season — lead Algoma to victory.
Schmidt and junior forward Kennedy Blahnik each had 15 points as Algoma beat Oconto for the third time this season, 51-35, ending the Blue Devils’ nine-game winning streak and hopes for its first-ever trip to the state tournament.
“We really had nothing to lose,” said Oconto coach Russ Young. “We heard all week long, ‘Well, good luck, you had a great season’ and people were burying us before we started. But I told the girls you have nothing to hang your heads about — you have five losses to probably two state champions.”
Oconto finished its season 21-5, its only losses to Algoma and Kewaunee.
Blahnik scored nine of her 15 points in the game’s first seven minutes, then the first two baskets of the second. Schmidt added eight in the half and the Wolves led 32-14 at the break.
“It was so hard last year sitting on the bench and watching my teammates struggle at the end of the game — it just made me hurt,” said Schmidt.
Oconto star junior guard Laken James was held scoreless in the first quarter but came back strong to score 15.
“She has to do it all,” Young said. “Score, handle the ball, distribute it, organize the defense. Emotionally, physically, mentally — it’s exhausting. By the end of the game she’s whipped.”
James had 10 points in the second half and Carli Meyer had eight as Oconto outscored the Wolves 21-19 and pulled to within 10, 34-24, with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
But back-to-back buckets by Meg Ryan and Schmidt to end the quarter and three straight inside to start the fourth stretched it to 20 points.
Algoma coach Mark Zastrow said his team’s full court pressure is key to wearing down the opposition.
“We lost a bunch of great leaders last year (to graduation), but the kids who are here now understand what it takes to be winners,” Zastrow said. “When they walk in onto the floor they expect they’re going to beat their opponent.”
Zastrow said having the tournament at The Resch Center this year is great for the community.
“Nobody has to take vacation,” Zastrow said. “I think our area is going to support the girls state tournament very well.”
Blahnik, the only player on this year’s team to score a basket in last year’s sectional appearance — the rest were seniors who graduated — said she’s ready for her second trip to state.
“Definitely a gold ball this time,” Blahnik said. “The fact that it’s closer to home, I think we’re going to fill the stands — and that’s going to help us.”
Algoma is making its seventh trip to state, but only its second in the past 27 years. The Wolves (24-2) face Cuba City (24-1) at 6:45 p.m. Thursday.
Algoma 18 14 6 13 — 51
Oconto 4 10 10 11 — 35
A: Schmidt 15, Mueller 2, Delorit 4, Ryan 7, Blazkovec 2, Blahnik 15, Bluett 2, Dier 4. 3-pt.: Ryan. FT: 10-15. F: 12.
O: James 15, Ellman 2, Meyer 8, Jicha 8, Pointer 2. 3-pt.: James 2, Meyer, Jicha. FT: 6-10. F: 18.