Different atmosphere for Tri-County Area team heading into regionals
While the record may not be quite as good for the Osseo-Fairchild High School Girls Basketball Team in comparison to last year, the atmosphere is quite different.
The Thunder were 22-2 overall, Western Cloverbelt Conference champions, top-ranked in Division 4 in the state and No. 1 seed in its regional tournament, but O-F was practically limping into the the tournament thanks to multiple injuries to key personnel. Just making the regional finals (a 44-40 loss to Fall Creek) was probably a success in itself.
Such an cloud of dread is gone now for O-F. The Thunder (16-8 overall) have won four in a row heading into this week's WIAA regional tournament and 11 of their last 13 ballgames. They have a No. 4 seed in their Division 4 bracket and will host either No. 5 seed Abbotsford (12-9) or No. 12 Spencer (3-20) in the semifinals set for Friday, Feb. 24.
"It's a very different situation," OFHS head coach Tera Simpson said. "This season's team has been healthy for most part and has been able to grow and come together since the start of the season and are now playing with confidence."
If the Thunder do face the Falcons of Abbotsford in the semifinals, they'll be facing a squad led by junior and veteran scoring leaders Sydney Faltiesek at 15.4 points per game (PPG.) and Sommer Brodhagen at 12.2 ppg. Faltisek also leads the team in rebounding, grabbing 9.4 per contest. Another junior, Bresedia Escalera, is also a team leader in assists along with rebounds and points (8.3 ppg.). Abby was 13-12 last season with largely the same players as sophomores.
The winner would get top-seed, No. 4 ranked and unbeaten Neillsville (24-0). The Warriors won the overall Cloverbelt title with a 46-34 win over Chippewa Falls McDonell last Saturday at home, the second time this season the Warriors have beaten the WCC-winner and No. 8 ranked Macks (19-5). While the Warriors certainly get their scoring from junior shooting forward Paris Opelt at 19 ppg. and rebounds (6.6 rpg) what sets them apart is how difficult it is to score on them, as they are one of the top defensive teams in the state in D-4. They also have veteran players such as senior point guard Delaney Rochester and senior shooting guard Amelia Trunkel. They both average 13 ppg.
On the other side of the sectional half-bracket is No. 2 seed Fall Creek (17-7) and Durand-Arkansaw (18-6) both clashed in the regional semifinals last season with FC winning on Tori Marten's last-second basket. They could clash again for a D-4 regional championship on Saturday, Feb. 25 in Fall Creek. The Crickets will first half to get past either No. 7 Augusta (12-11) or No. 10 seed Spring Valley (6-17) this Friday at Fall Creek. The Crickets play a fair-share of good defense themselves and will need it to shutdown the Beavers' top scorers in seniors Kennedy Korger (18.1 ppg.), Sam Winsce and Brittany Bergman, both averaging over eight ppg. Durand-Arkansaw, led by their scoring and rebound leader sophomore Emma Hoyt (11.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg.) will more than likely have to play an Eau Claire Regis (11-12) squad which has won four in a row led by scoring and rebound leader 6-1 sophomore forward Ashley Chilson who is scoring 19 ppg. and grabs 10 rebounds per game and fellow sophomore guard Carly Brost who is averaging over eight points and rebounds per game.
In Division 5, Eleva-Strum (7-15) enters the playoffs with some momentum, having won their past two Large Dairyland Conference contests. The Cardinals are the No. 13 seed at No. 4 seed and No. 7 ranked Royall on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The Panthers (20-2) finished runner-up to top-ranked Bangor in the Scenic Bluffs Conference. Royall's top player is junior Marah Gruen, averaging 18.5 ppg. and 11 rebounds a contest. The Panthers also get scoring and rebounding support from her sisters Brooklyn and Bria. Teammate and senior guard Cailey Simmons averages over 14 ppg.
Due to the impending winter storm, regional tournament game times which have been moved up on Tuesday include Spring Valley at Augusta (5:45 p.m.) and Eleva-Strum at Royall (5:30).