Scott Conklin, left, Rory Groleau and Deb Harder place a WIAA girls state basketball logo on the court of the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon. / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Media
The quote printed on the Green Bay Notre Dame girls basketball team’s custom T-shirts spoke volumes about the Tritons’ excitement for this week’s WIAA state girls basketball tournament.
“There’s no place like home.”
The Tritons are one of three schools, along with Kewaunee and Algoma, representing the area at the first state girls basketball tournament held at the Ashwaubenon-based Resch Center. Competition begins Thursday with Division 4 and 5 semifinal games and runs through Saturday’s championships.
PMI Entertainment Group, which is running the tournament, has a two-year contract to host the event, and the three schools understand what it means to be the first area teams to play in their backyard.
Making their first back-to-back state appearance in program history, the Tritons and their coach, Sara Rohde, talked about the honor this week at practice and aren’t taking the opportunity for granted to participate in a state tournament less than 2 miles from their school.
“I think the girls are taking pride in it that we’re going to be here in Green Bay and playing right around all the fans,” said Rohde, who has a 41-12 record in her two seasons as the Tritons’ coach. “I have a lot of friends in the community who are like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll come watch because it’s right in Green Bay.’ Even for my family who lives up in Michigan, it’s a closer venue for everybody in general. I feel like we’ll have more fans versus driving to Madison.”
The 11-person WIAA board of control last April unanimously approved the recommendations made by WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson to move the girls state basketball tournament to the Resch Center in 2013 and 2014.
The girls tournament had been held in Madison each year since the event started in 1976, but the main obstacle had been the availability of the Kohl Center this year and in 2014. The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is hosting Minnesota-Duluth in a WCHA playoff series this weekend at the Kohl Center and could host a WCHA playoff series again next year, while the NCAA women’s Frozen Four could be held at the Kohl Center in 2014 if the school should pursue hosting it.
By moving the girls tournament to the Green Bay area, enough of those conflicts have been avoided to keep the boys tournament in Madison, where it has been played every year but one since 1920.
For the three area teams, the tournament being held in Green Bay means they’ll be able to sleep in their own beds, eat their own food and ready themselves in their own environment.
“It’s very cool that it’s close,” Algoma coach Mark Zastrow said. “Our support has, obviously, been great for many years. To have that right here where people can travel comfortably and not be concerned about that, not having to be worried about getting off of work for the most part, I think that is all exciting stuff for our kids.”
Attendance at last year’s WIAA state tournament in Madison fell to 30,353, which marked its lowest turnout since 1985. Through Wednesday morning, PMI chief operating officer Cora Haltaufderheid said more than 21,000 tickets had been sold.
A number of schools, including Kewaunee, have reached out for more tickets while Algoma sold out its allotment by noon Monday.
With Algoma, Kewaunee and Notre Dame having made at least one state appearance over the past two seasons — the Storm is the defending D3 state champion — PMI had an inkling it would have multiple area teams participating in this week’s tournament.
After previously hosting the WIAA state girls volleyball state tournament and NCAA Division I men’s hockey regionals, PMI has seen how local ties can benefit the events it hosts.
The girls basketball tournament is no different.
“With the strength of the WIAA and the region in Northeastern Wisconsin, we knew we were going to get lucky and get some of them,” Haltaufderheid said. “When you look at Notre Dame, who has been strong and was down there last year, we knew we had a good shot there and the pulse in the town and community such as Algoma or Kewaunee is very similar to what happens in Pulaski and the boys tournament.
“The teams that we have and people we have coming in have been really solid, so we’re very excited. We can tell every time we pull up the computer, there’s a pulse.”
The move to Green Bay has required some adjustment from the 36-year tradition of hosting the event in Madison, but many players and coaches are embracing the change.
Regardless of where the event is held, the goal of capturing — or defending — a state championship hasn’t changed.
“I kind of like the idea that it’s at the Resch this year,” said Notre Dame junior Allie LeClaire. “Everybody would love to travel to Madison, but I just think it’s going to be a great atmosphere for us and we’re going to have a lot of fans. I think that’s going to be a huge advantage for our team.”
— Andrew Pekarek contributed to this report.