ASHWAUBENON — The Kewaunee girls basketball team completed not only the greatest stretch in program history, but one of the best the area has seen all-time.
In winning its second straight WIAA Division 3 state championship with a dramatic 60-58 victory over East Troy, the Storm became the first squad in the Green Bay Press-Gazette coverage area to win back-to-back WIAA titles and the 11th overall in the state to accomplish the feat.
As the only defending champion to even make it to championship Saturday at the Resch Center this year, Kewaunee ended the season with a state-best 23-game winning streak.
It began after the Storm sustained its only loss of the season by letting a double-digit fourth-quarter lead evaporate against Algoma on Dec. 13.
The Storm would come back to beat the Wolves on Feb. 1 and be the last team to do so, as Algoma went on a winning streak of its own en route to the D4 state title.
Kewaunee also handed Green Bay Notre Dame its last defeat before the Tritons went on to win the D2 title.
Powering the Storm during this season were six seniors who finished their high school careers with a 90-17 record, including 74-9 during a stretch of winning a share of three straight Packerland Conference titles and making three straight state appearances.
“They’ve got a bond that is hard to break,” Kewaunee coach Lynn Geier said. “There’s just the bond of not letting your teammate down. They’re a special group.”
Considering the program had not won a Packerland Conference title since 1992 prior to this senior class’s arrival, the dominant stretch it has been on seemed to come out of nowhere.
But it was something Geier and many of the youth coaches at Kewaunee knew could happen.
Coupled with last year’s five seniors, the Storm had a pair of classes entering high school having combined to win three youth state titles.
But following the graduation of the 2012 class that helped lead Kewaunee to its first state title in any girls sport at the school, it remained to be seen how this year’s seniors would finish with a less experienced bench behind it.
The Storm started five seniors and went with a seven-player rotation on average when games were still in question for most of the season.
Ultimately, Kiley Heim, Amanda Kudick, Jill Kleiman, Courtney Miller, Alex Richard and Kelsey Stangel finished their high school careers with the exact inverse of their youth playing days, when it won back-to-back state titles before finishing as a runner-up in eighth grade.
“They just know how to win in big games,” Geier said. “These kids they just wanted it so bad and they played like it (Saturday).”
The unheralded trio
Opposing coaches usually focus most of their attention on Kewaunee’s top three scorers of Kleiman, Stangel and Richard.
The trio combined to score 93 of the Storm’s 100 points at state this year. However, the team’s role players came up with crucial plays at the right time on Saturday against East Troy.
Junior Amanda Bultman played 15 minutes and took a charge in the fourth quarter when the Trojans had a chance to retake the lead in the fourth quarter.
Senior Kiley Heim made three steals in the second half to go along with five assists and a 3-pointer that cut the deficit back down to two points at the end of the third quarter.
Senior Amanda Kudick completed a three-point play with a hard drive to begin and set the tone for the fourth quarter in addition to making three steals and three assists.
The latter trio has been making those unheralded plays all season.
“Being a part of this team you have more than just points,” Stangel said. “You have people who rebound the ball, assists, pass the ball up the floor and that’s exactly what we did. We came together as a team, everybody did their part.”
Needless to say, Kewaunee will be a rather inexperienced team next season when it has to replace five starters and six of the top eight players in its rotation.
However, the players on the roster who didn’t see a lot of time in games this year do have the experience of going against this year’s senior class in practice every day.
The incoming freshman class also will feature coach Geier’s youngest daughter, Brooke.