Comets drop opener
Waupaca comes back from 22-point deficit
By Greg Seubert
With solid programs like Luxemburg-Casco, Wrightstown and Freedom, a North Eastern Conference championship isn’t in the cards this season for the Waupaca girls’ basketball team.
However, second-year coach Nate Harms believes his team is heading in the right direction after opening the season Nov. 14 with a 58-47 nonconference home loss to Ripon.
Waupaca trailed 31-23 at halftime and fell behind by as many as 22 points in the second half, but ended the game with a 13-2 run.
“I liked some of the things we did offensively early and late,” Harms said. “We just have to continue to do those things throughout the entire game. Defensively, we did some good things at times and then we’d break down. We have to work on becoming stronger defensively.”
The Comets played without the graduated Victoria Nowak, who led the state last season by averaging 16.3 rebounds a game.
“We look at that as a positive for our team because that means more of us are going to have to step up,” Harms said. “That’s only going to make us better. We’ve embraced the idea of picking up the slack on rebounds.
“Victoria led the state in rebounds and that’s a big void to fill,” he said. “Everybody has to do their job there. We need to get better as a team rebounding the ball. Ripon had a lot of extra opportunities and I would say they probably outrebounded us 2-to-1. If we can make that 1-to-1, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Waupaca’s roster includes senior in Alana Radley; juniors Kalyn Klug, Brenna Barlow and Haleigh Smith; sophomores Emma Smidt, Mya Johannes, Madi Wennesberg, Lylli Sondrol and Shelby Schroeder; and freshmen Seattle Lettau and Savannah Wehmeyer.
Lettau and Wehmeyer saw plenty of playing time in the opener.
“They did some really nice things,” Harms said. “We were young last year and we’re young again this year, but we’re going to embrace that. That’s actually going to be a positive for us because in the end, we’re going to develop these young girls and they’re going to be able to buy into what we’re trying to do. I think that’s going to show more and more every game.”
Johannes opened the second half with a three-pointer that cut the Tigers’ lead to 31-26, but Olivia Lewis and Kerstin Sauerbrei combined for five threes during a 21-5 run that gave Ripon a 52-31 lead.
The Tigers eventually led 56-34, but Waupaca scored 13 of the game’s final 15 points.
Johannes and Smidt led the Comets with 17 and 11 points, respectively, while Lewis and Sauerbrei led Ripon with 21 and 17.
“Those girls obviously worked on their shooting because we saw them last year and in summer league and they’re a lot better shooters now than they were then,” Harms said. “It paid off for them. That’s what we have to do. We have to continue to work on our fundamental skills: shooting, dribbling, passing. The fundamentals are what are going to take us to where we want to go.
“We’re only going to get better,” he added. “I do think we’re a lot better than we were at this same time last year. It actually didn’t show out there. That was actually a much better Ripon team than we faced last year. They had three wins last year and one of them was against us. They’re leaps and bounds better, we’re leaps and bounds better. Tonight, they were just better than us.”
The Comets are coming off of an 8-15 season that included a 6-12 mark in conference play, good enough for seventh place.
Harms expects last season’s top three teams – Wrightstown, Luxemburg-Casco and Freedom – to contend for a conference championship.
“The top half is about the same as it was last year,” he said. “Lux-Casco may be the one that’s everyone’s chasing. They have everyone back for the second year in a row. They were already good. Wrightstown’s always good and a team like Freedom’s always going to be there.”
Waupaca will open North Eastern play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, at Clintonville, a team the Comets defeated twice last season.
“We hope we can start getting our foot in the door in the top half,” Harms said. “I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen. I’m confident of that.”