Kewaunee's jill Kleiman during the game against Algoma, Friday, February 1, 2013. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Coach: Lynn Geier (178-60, tenth year)
Kelsey Stangel, 13.0 ppg
Stangel, 8.0 rpg
Jill Kleiman, 3.6 apg
Clockwise from upper left: Kewaunee's Kelsey Stangel looks to the basket; Alex Richard takes a shot; Kiley Heim heads upcourt; Amanda Kudick drives to the basket against Algoma.s Rachel Feuerstein. / Gannett Wisconsin Media
KEWAUNEE — Are you ready to throw in the towel?
It was the question posed to the Kewaunee girls basketball team by assistant coach Beth Budnik at halftime of its sectional semifinal against Wrightstown last week.
The Storm was down by double digits and trailing at the half for the first time this season.
“We weren’t going to do that. We fought back because this is everything we’ve dreamed about,” Kewaunee senior Alex Richard said.
The Storm rallied to win in overtime and found a way back to state for a third straight season with a chance to repeat as the WIAA Division 3 champion at the Resch Center.
“I think it proved to them that they can play through adversity,” Kewaunee coach Lynn Geier said.
Other than when it let a double-digit lead evaporate in its lone loss at Algoma on Dec. 13, the Storm had not found itself in many adverse situations before rallying for victories against Wrightstown and Appleton Xavier in its last two playoff games.
With five senior starters who have three years of varsity experience, Kewaunee rolled throughout much of the regular season in winning all but one of its games by double digits.
But the expectations to repeat made the season a challenge despite what many of the final scores would indicate.
“It gets tougher every year because the target is on our back now,” senior Amanda Kudick said. “But with so much experience on our team, we can handle the pressure.”
That experience not only stems from the last two postseason runs that have seen the Storm finish as the D3 runner-up in 2011 and winning its first title last year, but also from the runs the six seniors had together at the youth level, where they won back-to-back small-school state titles in sixth and seventh grade.
“We know each other so well,” Stangel said. “We know when people are going to shoot, when to look for the pass and all that stuff. We just click together and mesh very well. We’re so close. We’re really like sisters.”
The Lodi team Kewaunee is facing in a D3 semifinal at 9 a.m. Friday is also a lot like the Storm was two years ago when it was making its first state appearance without a senior on the roster. Coming from a school that was primarily known for its state trips in football, Kewaunee began to make a name for itself in girls basketball by knocking off top-ranked Whitefish Bay Dominican in the semifinals.
Coming from a school that is best known for its 14 state appearances in wrestling, Lodi is hoping to do the same in its first state appearance with sophomore guards Taylor Baker and Meredith Gallagher powering its lineup.
“Any team that is in the final four you know they’re deserving,” Geier said. “They work hard and are a blue-collar team. They seem to play a lot of zone, so we’ve got to be prepared to be patient and get an inside-outside attack going.”
The Storm’s inside offense comes from Richard and her cousin Kelsey Stangel, who are three-year starters along with point guard Jill Kleiman, the team’s top 3-point shooter (34.0 percent). Meanwhile, Kudick is a stronger defender in the post and on the perimeter, and guard Kiley Heim is another deep-shooting threat.
The bench rotation includes senior Courtney Miller and juniors Amanda Bultman and Carli VanGoethem. However, Kewaunee has been relying heavily on its starting five in the postseason.
“Our ultimate goal is to come home with a gold ball senior year,” Stangel said. “That’s what we’ve been pushing and fighting for all year.”