What A Wild Run

By: 
Mike Wieting

GREEN BAY – Fast paced and chaotic, tumultuous and shocking, euphoric and heartbreaking, all concepts that can be used to describe the State Basketball Tournament, but one word stands out as being the simplest and most succinct, wild. If there’s one team that knows this, it’s the girls with wild in their names, The Wildcats of Lena. When trying to describe this team a few other words come to mind, ferocious and indomitable, focused and determined,  tough and impassioned. All qualities which were carried by the Wildcats into this tournament making for an amazing show that should not have been missed by any area sports fan. 

It was an amazing season for the Wildcats, A season that saw this incredible team claim a conference championship, a regional championship, a sectional championship and a state runner up trophy. Few area teams have been able to achieve the level of success the Wildcats enjoyed this season. By season’s end the Wildcats carried a 15-1 conference record and a 28-3 overall record. In their overall stats the Wildcats scored 61.6 points per game with a game high of 86. Just a few short years ago during the 2021-22 season, the Wildcats found themselves fighting for life with a 6-8 conference record. The rise to the top of state division five field has been truly meteoric. 

This past weekend the girls from Lena played in their most important game yet, facing off against Albany/Monticello in the Division 5 state championship game. And what a game it was. Though the Wildcats played a tough and scrappy game that saw many lead changes, they were unable to come out on top in overtime, falling to the champion Comets 57-54. Anyone who had the privilege of watching this team play on the biggest stage in high school basketball, knows that it was a wild ride.

Even though they were unable to bring home the gold ball the Wildcats remain wild. They played an amazing game leaving everything on the court and leaving those in attendance gripping the edges of their seats. The state appearance was something that the Lena community has not had a taste of since the 1991 season. That’s 33 years since a basketball team wearing the Lena Wildcat patch has even set foot on that kind of stage. What was done this season by this team can be described as no less than historic. 

Lena Shoots their way to State Final With 53-48 win over Clear Lake

“I had a feeling we could get here,” said Lena sophomore Madi Thomson. “We just had to put in the time and have the teamwork in the first place. But I had a good feeling that if we played together, this could happen.”

The words of Madi Thomson best capture what it took to get the win Friday morning at the Resch center in Green Bay as the Wildcats outlasted Clear Lake 53-48.  It took a heck of a lot of teamwork and a little quick striking tactics to get this game put away and punch Lena’s ticket to the state final.

Quick hitting was how the Wildcats rolled from the get go, ending the game with six three pointers, proving to be difference maker that helped to give them a distinct advantage in the scoring column. 

“We’ve got good 3-point shooters and they know they need to step up on nights when our bigs down low are going to get double- and triple-teamed,” said Lena head Coach Tim Goldschmidt. “It’s a great feeling to know that when they get doubled and tripled, they’re going to kick it out and the girls are going to square up and knock them down. It’s a big part of our offense. We don’t use it a whole lot during the year because normally we don’t have to, but in big games it’s there when we need it.”

One point of contention were turnovers, with both teams committing their fare share, but with Lena proving to be the team able to capitalize as they scored 20 points off turnovers compared to Clear Lake’s 10.

It didn’t take long for the action to start rolling in this state semi-final contest. Lena’s Madi Thomson struck first, hitting on a layup to give the game its opening points. Eva brooks followed shortly after with a three pointer to put Lena up 5-0 early.

Clear Lake quickly responded going on a quick hitting run of their own taking a 7-5 lead after an Ellie Cress three ball.

Eva Brooks tied things up at 7-7 with a jumper at the 12 minute mark while bringing the Wildcats to another tied up mark 11-11 with a layup with nine minutes remaining.

Clear Lake began to take an edge near the half way point in the opening frame 16-14, but a well timed Whitney Potter three pointer put Lena back on top 17-16.

The three pointers kept coming as time wound down, as Alabama Lambert struck from behind the arc with :56 left in the half to bring Lena to a 23-20 lead. That lead would be extended on a buzzer beating layup by Brooks to end the half with Lena up 25-20.

A big part of the first half effort by the Lena girls was their quickness of hitting points off of turnovers as 9 of their 25 came from TO’s. Five points were scored off the fast break. Those fast break points would be improved upon over the second half.

Starting the second half scoring was Brooks who quickly struck on a layup for the 27-20 lead.

Clear Lake did what they could to contain the Wildcats, who toyed with a seven point lead for the next six minutes.

Eventually Clear Lake fought back bringing the score to 29-29 with a three pointer by Nora Eggert with 13:30 left to play.

Madi Thomson struck from deep to bring the lead back to 3, 32-29 while Brooks a short while later hit on a few free throws to make it 35-30.

After the free throws the game went scoreless for nearly two minutes before Clear Lakes’ Shelby Meyer broke the silence on a layup making it 35-32 with Lena still in control.

With just under seven minutes left to play Madi Thomson ripped down a rebound and quickly struck on layup which seemed to push the momentum in the Wildcats favor. 40-32.

The biggest lead of the night soon followed for the Lena girls as Brooks snagged a steal which she drove to the hoop for the fast break layup, pushing the lead to nine 42-33. 

Much like the season as a whole, this game saw the Wildcats able to muster a surge of energy late in the game.

“When we went on that run, it was with our fast break,” Goldschmidt said. “These girls hate me a lot during the year because we do a lot of conditioning. But they are starting to realize now that conditioning is paying off because at the end of the game, we have something left in our tank and the other teams don’t.”

Clear lake again tried to battle back but kept getting meet by an answer from the Wildcats who turned a seven point lead back into a nine point lead with a Kali Fischer layup at the 4:51 mark and again with a Brooks layup at the 3:17 mark to make it 47-38.

Brooks would return Lena to a nine point lead one last time in this one with 2:42 left scoring off a steal and fast break making it 49-40.

Near the end of the game Lena Senior Alabama Lambert went down to an apparent ankle injury. The tough Wildcat didn’t skip a beat and hopped back to her feet. Obviously in pain, wounded and limping she continued to battle for her team showing just how determined and tough these Wildcats are. Eventually she was subbed out to receive and ankle taping. 

The final points came off Brooks’ free throw shot making it 53-48 with 17 seconds remaining. 

After the game a Brooks who was all smiles commented on the win, “I didn’t envision it at all or expect it, but I’m happy we got here. It takes a lot of hard work. I’m just happy our dreams could come true coming here.”

By game’s end Both Brook and M. Thomson had achieved double doubles. 

Brooks led all scorers in the State Semifinal match with 23. She hit two of her five three point attempts and put in 5 of her eight free throws. She ended the night with four offensive rebounds and 10 defensive rebounds while blocking four shots and stealing six times.

M. Thomson added up 12 points during the match, getting one three ball along the way. She also did well off the boards getting two offensive and nine defensive rebounds.

Whitney Potter struck twice from behind the arc to help bring her to her eight point total while Kali Fischer posted six points.

Alabama Lambert posted three points while Hannah Thomson got one from the line.

Lena Battles in Shootout State Final; Falls in Overtime 

Lena’s rocket trip of a season stalled out just seconds from full orbit Saturday morning when they suffered a close 57-54 loss to Albany/Monticello.

Though the loss undoubtedly stung, the Lena girls were quick to realize the high level of achievement they had obtained together as friends and a team. And hey, a silver ball in the school trophy case isn’t that bad either.

“We are all best friends which it makes it hard to come back without everyone but I’m ready for next year and we have a good group coming back so I’m excited,” said Eva Brooks.

Lena also took another honor home after the game as Wildcat Eva Brooks secured a Div. 5 state tournament record of 19 rebounds in a single game. Her 33 total rebounds over the two game tournaments also set a record for division 5. Just another indication of how good of a game Lena played.

“That was an amazing game,” said Lena head coach Tim Goldschmidt. “I think everybody that paid the price of a ticket got their money’s worth. It’s the type of a game you like to be in. It’s just a shame that there’s got to be a loser in a game like that. There’s only one gold ball to go around. I think our team left everything on the court. I’m very, very proud of them.”

Anyone who witnessed the game saw just how close of a showdown this was. Lena led in the final seconds of regulation time before Albany/Monticello’s Abby Hollis drilled a deep three, tying the score at 50-50 with 5 seconds left, affectively sending the game into overtime. During that overtime Lena led multiple times before Hollis struck again on another game breaking three. Giving the Comets a 55-54 lead with one minute remaining. A couple Comet free throws put them up 57-54 and left the Wildcats with just under 14 seconds left to play.

After a time out by coach Goldschmidt the Wildcats attempted to get into a game tying position with a three point attempt but the play never materialized and the final buzzer sounded.

“We were hoping that they were going to be pressuring. We were going to run her off a screen and were going to run our bread-and-butter pick-and-roll were she likes to set a pick up high,” said Goldschmidt. “We were going to let her take a 3 to try and tie it but just never got to that point. I guess we panicked a little bit and again, kudos to Albany/Monticello. We thought they were going to be pressuring us. They kind of backed off a little bit. They caught us off-guard and we didn’t handle it well.”

The biggest difference in this close match was in the turnover column. The Wildcats committed 23 turnovers to just six by the Comets which equated to an 18-4 differential in TO points.

When asked about the turnovers impact on the outcome of the game Goldschmidt responded, “We’d be sitting here with the gold ball. This was one of the things we discussed and it has been one of our Achilles heels this year. At times we didn’t handle pressure as well as we should have. We knew Albany/Monticello was going to come after us today and it was part of our game plan.”

When the game started it appeared that Albany/Monticello just might start to run away with the score pushing themselves to a 10-2 lead over the Wildcats after an Avary Briggs jumper. Lena’s only points at this point came from a Whitney Potter jumper in the paint. 

It should be noted that the injured Alabama Lambert stepped in during the opening minutes in an attempt to play on a badly injured ankle, again showcasing her toughness to those in attendance.

“I feel for Alabama right now,” said Goldschmidt. “She’s a scrapper. She would have matched up well in this game with her athleticism. But she went down with an ankle injury yesterday and tried to tough it out today. I give that girl so much credit because if you would have seen that ankle you would have thought she wouldn’t have even been in a uniform today. But she absolutely wanted to give it a try and did the best she could.”

The lead extended at the 10:32 mark when Hollis connected on a three to make it 15-6, But from that point on the Wildcats snapped to life and adjusted, hitting on a layup from Brooks to start a lead narrowing run.

Madi Thomson struck next with two points in the paint followed by Brooks on another layup to narrow the lead to 15-12.

With the score 19-16 in favor of the comets Madi Thomson scored off a fast break and Maddy Kushner struck on a three pointer giving the Wildcats the 21-19 lead, their first of the game with 3:41 remaining in the first half.

A final free throw by Brooks set the final first half score 21-21.

Brooks continued the scoring opening the second half with a layup and the 23-21 lead.

At the 14:02 mark Thomson hit a layup, and on a quick turnaround scored again to make it 31-26.

After two free throws from Brooks at the 13:40 mark Lena enjoyed its largest lead of the morning 33-26.

It wasn’t until just less than nine minutes left to play that the Comets knotted up the score 37-37 off a Hollis three pointer.

Brooks got a three pointer of her own at the five minute mark pushing Lena to a 44-39 lead. And Madi Thomson made it a five point game again with a layup a short while later, 46-41.

But it was that last three by Hollis that made a world of difference. With Lena controlling the lead 50-47 Hollis dropped back and struck from deep tying the match at 50-50 with five seconds remaining. An off target 3 point attempt by Lena would effectively send the game into overtime.

Lena took the advantage in overtime with a Brooks jump ball win and three free throw points by Brooks in two line visits.

The Comets’ Trumpy pulled off a steal and score to knot it up at 52-52 while Maddy Kushner retook the lead 54-52 with two minutes remaining.

Again the Comet’s Hollis stepped in big striking one last three pointer with one minute left to give her team the 55-54 edge.

Forced to foul, Lena watched as Albany/Monticello’s Durtschi hit her free throws to bring the game to its final score of 57-54.

After an amazing game the stat books laid it bare just how hard the Wildcats played. The games’ two top scorers were Eva Brooks and Madi Thomson. Both had amassed more points than the leading scorer for Albany/Monticello, and combined for 37 of Lena’s 54 points.

Brooks was the night’s top scorer with 21 points. But again where she really stood out was in her rebounding, setting a state division 5 record for most rebounds in a game with 19. Those 19 were broken down into five offensive and 14 defensive. Giving Brooks a 2x double double tournament appearance.

Madi Thomson also dazzled the crowd with her 16 points, two steals and seven rebounds.

Kali Fischer added up six points while Maddy Kushner added on five.

Whitney Potter ended the day with four while Hannah Thomson posted two.

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