ASHWAUBENON — The freshmen didn’t wilt under the spotlights Thursday at the WIAA state girls basketball tournament at the Resch Center. In fact, they blossomed.
Barneveld’s Hannah Whitish hit nerve-defying jumpers, Wisconsin Rapids Assumption’s Gena Grundhoffer was a force inside and Algoma’s Baleigh Delorit had a debut to remember.
But nobody did more for her team than Algoma’s Anna Dier.
Dier, a 5-foot-11 forward, didn’t miss a shot in the first half and only one in the game. She was dominant both on the boards and on defense. Her box score says it all: 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, 10 rebounds, five blocked shots and four steals. She entered the game averaging eight points per game.
“You can’t tell she’s nervous; you can’t tell she’s a freshman out there,” Algoma teammate senior Taylor Schmidt said of Dier. “You would never know.”
Dier’s older sister, Lizzy, was a senior on Algoma’s 2011 state runner-up team.
“We talked about feeding off the crowd,” Dier said of pre-tournament conversations with her sister. “She talked about how they didn’t come home with the gold ball.
“We want to come home with the gold ball.”
Dier’s freshman teammate Delorit, a 5-10 guard, also had a veteran-like performance. She hit 2 of 3 3-pointers, including a big one with around 2 minutes left in the first half that extended the Wolves’ lead to 10, and finished with eight points and three rebounds.
Whitish, a 5-8 guard, made 3 of 7 3-pointers to finish with 11 points in the Golden Eagles’ 54-45 victory over South Shore. Her eight first-quarter points helped Barneveld take control early.
Grundhoffer, a 6-1 forward, was all over the score sheet. She hit 6 of 10 shots for 15 points, adding six rebounds and three blocked shots. She scored 10 points in the first half, including a shot at the first-quarter buzzer, as the Royals pulled out to a commanding 35-16 halftime lead. It never got closer after that.
John Cardoni is serving as an unofficial welcome wagon at the Resch Center today.
Cardoni, who lives a block away and is a self proclaimed “basketball junkie,” is a welcoming presence for visiting fans at the Resch’s first WIAA girls state basketball tournament.
He spent a good portion of the first game at the tournament greeting and talking with fans of Wisconsin Rapids Assumption and Wausau Newman, who were competing against each other in a Division 5 semifinal.
“It’s a perfect setup,” said Cardoni, who has lived at his nearby residence since 1969. “There’s plenty of parking, there’s restaurants close by, there’s hotels. It’s just a great place for it.”
Cardoni has attended boys and girls state basketball tournaments in the past and feels the WIAA and PMI Entertainment Group made a strong first impression.
As a season-ticket holder for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay women’s basketball team, he said his weekend is set between watching the girls state tournament and the Horizon League tournament at the Kress Center.
“Between here and watching the (UWGB) girls plays, this is a beautiful weekend for basketball.”
Not only can South Shore High School in Port Wing boast the smallest enrollment in the state tournament field — 42 — it also leads with the most family members.
Coach Clendon Gustafson’s two daughters were the focus of a Cardinals team that entered Thursday’s Division 5 semifinal undefeated. Barneveld knocked them out 54-45.
Megan Gustafson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, had a game-high 26 points and added 10 rebounds Thursday. She led the state in scoring at 31.1 points per game and added 12.7 rebounds per game.
Emily Gustafson, a 6-2 senior, had 17 rebounds against Barneveld after leading the state in rebounding at a 17.7 clip.
“It was really cool playing with my sister at state,” Megan said. “We didn’t know we’d make it, so it was really awesome.”
It was Clendon’s first season coaching the South Shore girls team after coaching the boys team for 13 years.
“The girls responded really well to my coaching,” he said. “I left it all on the court and there weren’t too many family feuds at home.”
Staying in the game
Janelle VandenPlas’ playing career ended earlier than she would have liked at the WIAA state tournament two years ago.
But in hindsight, the knee problems that cost the former Luxemburg-Casco standout a chance at playing college basketball have helped her find a career to pursue.
A sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, VandenPlas was at the Resch Center on Thursday working on the stats crew for the Division 5 semifinal games.
It’s something she does for the UWGB women’s basketball team and it has allowed her to stay close to the game she loves while taking on a heavy course schedule as a Human Biology major in addition to pursuing a coaching certificate.
“I really like learning about how the body works,” VandenPlas said. “It might sound weird, but I’m in my anatomy and physiology classes right now and I love it. I like it because it makes sense later as to why things happen.”
Looking back at her play career, that certainly is true as well.
After earning a scholarship to play for Winona State (Minn.), the 6-foot-1 center had to change her college plans at the end of her senior year because her knees weren’t going to be able to withstand the workload at the next level.
VandenPlas tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee as a freshman and then sustained the same injury to her left knee as a sophomore.
By her senior season with the Spartans, the effects of those injuries left her icing her knees each day just to practice.
Despite that, the two-time Bay Conference player of the year was able to lead L-C to state in 2011, where it finished as the Division 2 runner-up to New London.
The two sessions drew a total of 8,440 fans to the Resch Center on Thursday, the first day of the three-day tournament making its debut in Green Bay.
For the evening session, the attendance was 4,823. The afternoon session drew 3,617.
Last year’s first-day attendance in Madison was 6,242.
Andrew Pekarek contributed.