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Local girls basketball powers walk thin line between reloading and rebuilding

12:00 AM, Dec. 06, 2012 EST

Year after year, it seems like the usual suspects can be found trotting out on the court for the WIAA Boys State Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison.

In the case of the WIAA Girls State Tournament this season, that will mean the Resch Center in Green Bay.

If Wausau Newman Catholic or Marshfield aren't making the trip to Madison, it's pretty safe to assume the Cardinals and Tigers were probably within a game or two of reaching that destination.

One of the crazy aspects of March Madness in the state is how there seem to be traditional visitors to the biggest stage in high school basketball.

Central Wisconsin has its share of annual state participants, and believe it or not, the continued success of those programs over the years doesn't happen by accident.

"There is an expectation at Marshfield that we're going to be successful and the standards we demand here pushes the kids," said Tigers coach Heidi Michaelis, who's team is coming off 20-6 season and a runner-up finish in the Wisconsin Valley Conference.

"Having that history of winning plays a huge part in our success," Michaelis added. "When teams started winning at Marshfield, we expected to make it to Madison and win conference titles."

Veteran coach Tom Weinkauf has turned Newman Catholic into a perennial Division 4 or 5 state championship contender.

Last season was no different for the Cardinals, who reached the Division 5 state semifinals before falling to central Wisconsin upstart Owen-Withee 49-46 to cap off a 25-2 campaign in 2011-12.

It may be an old cliche, but Weinkauf is a firm believer in success building on success.

Once a program gets a taste of putting together 20-win seasons and making the trek to Madison (or Green Bay) on a consistent basis, the players believe in the process and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve those lofty goals year in and year out.

"I think the toughest part is to teach a team or anybody how to win. Once they learn how and experience success, it's easier the next time. They see the fun and joy of being successful and want to be part of it," said Weinkauf, who owns a 300-48 record in 14 seasons at Newman Catholic.

Part of the reason winning becomes contagious is the upperclassmen take pride in showing the younger players what it takes to succeed at the varsity level.

"The younger kids see what it takes to be successful, they learn how to practice and how to work in the offseason," Weinkauf said. "(Winning) doesn't come automatically and there are no givens from year to year. You have to earn it and understand what it takes to be successful."

For other teams in the area, the challenge to to change the culture of the program and develop that winning mindset where deep runs in the postseason.

Neillsville broke through to claim the Division 4 state championship with a 52-42 win over Oshkosh Lourdes a year ago, and is expecting big things again this season.

Owen-Withee is another program that put things together and made a deep run last season, bringing home a silver trophy in Division 5 as the state runner-up, and expects to build off that success this year.

The challenge is maintaining that high level of success.

"The nice thing about having a year like we did is those kind of expectations are now in everybody's mind. This year, the girls are expecting an awful lot of themselves, and the coaches don't have to be the ones to motivate them or set the bar high," said Stevens Point Area Senior High coach Dave Hauser, whose team went 21-3 and won the Wisconsin Valley Conference championship a year ago.

"I don't know if there is a different air or excitement after a season like last year, but you can tell the returning players want to make sure the younger players understand what's going on and what we're trying to do here."

In many cases that success begins at the youth levels.

In fact, Assumption coach Joe Birhauser points to the feeder programs that have been developed through the years as a major reason why the Royals annually find themselves in the hunt for a trip to state.

"We think it's important to know the first name of every sixth-grade player because that is only going to help and enhance the program. They feel like they are a part of the program already," Birkhauser said. "The light bulb really came on for me that we needed to get the youth program going."

Put all of the factors together, and there is a pretty good chance your team will be playing under the bright lights of the state tournament, or coming awful close.




Boys Basketball

Rank School Record
1 Marshfield High School
Marshfield, WI
2 Auburndale HS
Auburndale, WI
3 Medford High School
Medford, WI
4 Abbotsford Jr/Sr HS
Abbotsford, WI
5 Columbus Catholic MS/HS
Marshfield, WI