WIAA girls basketball regional tournament action begins around the state on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Bloomer, Durand and Clayton were western Wisconsin teams that reached the WIAA State Tournament in 2017.
What teams represent this part of the state at the 2018 WIAA state championships at the Resch Center in Green Bay on March 8-10 is anyone's guess. There are talented teams in all five divisions, but it will take talent and a little luck to be the teams advancing to the state tournament this season.
Here are previews of the area regional tournament bracket in each division.
Hudson and Superior are the only area teams competing in the Division 1 bracket. This is an incredibly strong bracket. Hudson has been an exceptional team over the second half of the season, but that still only earned the Raiders the seventh seed in the sectional bracket. This section covers a huge portion of the state, with the top seeds in the bracket coming from Appleton North and Kimberly.
Hudson enters the postseason riding an 11-game winning streak, including a victory over Eau Claire Memorial in its regular season finale to give the Raiders a share of their second straight Big Rivers Conference title. Six-foot senior forward Shayla Wallin is a force at both ends of the floor, averaging 14.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.3 blocked shots while senior point guard Ty Huber contributes nearly 10 points per game. First-year coach Jess Carney was a member of Hudson's 2002 state championship team before going on to become the all-time leading scorer at Gustavus Adolphus College.
Superior is 10-12 overall, including 5-6 against teams from Wisconsin and 2-4 in the Lake Superior Conference (wins over Ashland twice, Eau Claire Memorial, Wisconsin Rapids and New Richmond-losses to Madison LaFollette, Chippewa Falls, Rice Lake, Eau Claire North, Hudson and Hayward.)
Leading scorers are sophomore Niya Wilson (12 ppg) and junior Maddy Myer (10 ppg).
The Spartans' roster includes just two seniors (Sophie Kintop and Lexi Jensen). First-year head coach is Dave Kontny, who had a record of 157-59 during his 10 years as the head coach of the Spartan boys.
River Falls and New Richmond are the two area teams competing in the Division 2 bracket and they will get to face each other in the opening night of regional tournament action. The Tigers will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 20, on the Wildcats' home court. This comes three days after the Wildcats and Tigers ended the regular season facing each other.
Onalaska and Rice Lake are the top seeds in the Sectional 1 bracket. Onalaska finished the regular season with a 19-3 record, taking second place behind La Crosse Aquinas in the Mississippi Valley Conference. Aquinas is the top-ranked team in the state in Division 4 and Onalaska is ranked sixth in Division 2.
River Falls (7-15)
The young Wildcats won just two games against mostly Division 1 competition in the Big Rivers Conference but have done well in the postseason in recent years after dropping down to Division 2 for the playoffs. River Falls won the sectional title in 2015 despite going 5-7 in BRC play and have reached the regional final each of the last two seasons. Sophomore guard Kylie Strop averages a team-high 16.4 points per game while junior post Bailey Reardon is averaging 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds.
New Richmond (3-19)
The Tigers are a young team that has played competitive ball against nearly all of its opponents, especially over the past month. New Richmond's leading scorer is guard Lorin Bauer, the only senior starter. There is plenty of young talent on the Tigers that is molding into a cohesive team. Freshmen Leah DeYoung and Barb Kling have been promising additions. A deep sophomore class, led by Audrey Feuerer and Maya Greenquist, is a talented, energetic group. Sophomore Jessica Hagman is working back from a major knee injury last summer. Her return adds another tall, athletic player to the Tigers' arsenal.
Area teams competing in Sectional 1 in Division 3 include St. Croix Central, Prescott, Somerset and Ellsworth. St. Croix Central is the highest seed among those four Middle Border Conference teams, drawing the second seed. Northwestern, which finished third in the Heart O'North Conference, is the fifth seed in the regional bracket. Hayward (19-3), the champion of the HON, received the top seed in the sectional bracket. The Hurricanes are ranked fourth in the Division 3 state rankings. There are a number of top quality teams in this bracket. St. Croix Central, Bloomer and Amery are also teams that could make noise in this region.
St. Croix Central (20-2)
The Panthers went through the Middle Border Conference season without a loss. Central's only losses came early in the season against Dunn-St. Croix Conference powers Colfax and Durand. Central enters the tournaments on a 15-game win streak. The Panthers are led by senior Mia Krogseng, one of the most well-rounded players in western Wisconsin. She leads the team averaging 18.2 points per game, and she ranked among the MBC leaders in assists and rebounds. The Panthers have the ability to score from anywhere in the offensive end of the court, with Claire Frankiewicz as a potent threat in the post and Kalli Cress leading a group of accurate outside shooters.
The Tigers are 15-7 overall and 10-4 in the Heart O'North Conference. They are led by last season's Superior Telegram Player of the Year, and future Finlandia Lion, Katie Lundeen (15 ppg).
Mac Correll is the Tigers' outside threat, averaging 11.3 ppg, which included 70 three-point baskets. Northwestern is a smart, veteran team that could give Amery a challenge if they meet up in the regionals on Friday.
Last year the Cardinals finished their regular season with an 8-14 record, but the Prescott team has added two key offensive weapons to their roster since then. Junior Haylee Yaeger was added to the team's roster this season after she moved to Prescott from Hastings, and played a large role in landing the Cardinals a sixth seed in this year's sectional tournament. The 6-foot center has given the Cardinals an inside presence that they haven't had in years past. With her height and strength, she can finish at the rim against the best defenders, but can also recognize when she needs to kick the ball out to one of her teammates when going up against a double- or triple-team. One of Yaeger's go-to teammates is freshman Bella Lenz who can put up 15 plus points any given night. The freshman guard is a threat behind the arc, but can also drive the lane against defenders twice her size. Lenz's mentor, veteran point guard Allie Murphy, leads her team with her sound fundamentals and unfaltering poise in her third season on the varsity squad. Scoring hasn't been a problem for Prescott with Yaeger, Lenz and Murphy, but the team has lacked consistency in their defensive game throughout the season. They hosted the 11th-seeded Ellsworth team, their conference opponent, in the opening round of playoffs on Tuesday night.
The Spartans, the eighth seed, hosted ninth-seeded Barron on Tuesday in the opening round of the playoffs. Somerset has found its game over the second half of the season, finishing the regular season on a 6-3 run. Somerset is led by hard-charging senior point guard Anna Rybacki, whose drives to the basket are a key ingredient in the team's success. Rybacki's drives create open shots for her teammates, primarily senior Tori Gareis and junior Georgia Hammer, who have been highly accurate perimeter shooters. After graduating the top six players from the team that reached the sectional title game last winter, the Spartans have regrouped admirably to become the fourth place team in the Middle Border Conference.
The young Panthers dropped a 72-61 loss to the Prescott Cardinals on Feb. 6, then returned to their conference opponent's home court on Tuesday, Feb. 20 for a playoff rematch. Most prep teams would be dispirited with only four wins on the season, but the Panthers' optimism has helped them bounce back from double-digit deficits in many of their games. Ellsworth is led in scoring by freshman Autumn Earney who has made a name for herself in her first year of varsity basketball. The Panthers have struggled with foul trouble and inconsistent interior defensive play throughout the season, but when they play with confidence, they're able to hang around top conference opponents such as Prescott and St. Croix Central. Second-year head coach Jason Janke has brought hope for the future of Ellsworth girls basketball, but Janke will try and knock off a few teams before they begin thinking about the seasons to come.
Spring Valley is the lone area team competing from our readership area in Division 4. A number of traditional powers are lurking as the main contenders to advance out of this bracket. St. Croix Falls and Colfax are the top two seeds and they're regular threats to advance to sectionals. Clear Lake and Cameron are both 18-win teams from the Lakeland Conference who can't be counted out. Cameron is ranked tenth in the state and still only received the fourth seed in the bracket.
Spring Valley (1-21)
It's been a long season for the Spring Valley Cardinals, whose only win of the season came against Division 5 Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran. However, the Cardinals have remained true to their preseason promise that they'd put forth their best effort every single night they competed. The Division 4 team only averages 30.4 points per game, and hasn't found a consistent high-scorer on its roster. SV's leading scorer, junior Lexi Johansen, is averaging 8.4 points per game and can shoot from outside and create crafty plays in the paint. Johansen recorded her career-high 26 points against Colfax in January, but was held to just two points in both of the Cardinals' last two games of the regular season. There's almost no chance that the Cardinals will pull off a road upset against Cameron (18-4) - the No. 10-ranked Division 4 team - in the first round of playoffs, but fans can bet that the Cardinals will leave everything they have left on the Comets' home court.
Elmwood-Plum City will be competing in Sectional 3 in the Division 5 state tournament bracket.
Sectional 3 covers much of southwestern Wisconsin, with E-PC being one of the northernmost schools in the bracket. Bangor, the third ranked Division 5 team in the state, is the top seed in the section.
Elmwood-Plum City (9-13)
The Wolves have been up against talented Division 4 Dunn-St. Croix teams - Durand, Colfax, Elk Mound and Mondovi - for the entire season, but are ready to face their Division 5 competition starting on Tuesday, Feb. 20 when they host Royall (9-12) in their regional game. EPC relied on its athleticism all season, but has become a talented outside shooting team as its season has wound down. Center Lexi Diesing leads the Wolves with 9.7 points per game, but Rowan Rupakus has bumped up her average with 18-, 19- and 20-point games in February. Senior Ellie Funk is the Wolves' top distributor with 3.4 assists per game, and Hannah Feuker has become a reliable defensive force in the paint for the EPC team. The Wolves will need to remain patient against trap defenses and rely on their basketball IQs to get past their equally-matched Royall opponents.