ASHWAUBENON - After further review the girls basketball state tournament has to be looked at as a success, and not just because three teams from Northeastern Wisconsin won state titles.
The three-day event concluded Saturday night and the attendance was 39,731 compared to 30,353 last year at the Kohl Center. And this is without a Division 1 school from the area in the field.
What if De Pere, Kimberly or Oshkosh North, the latter two which lost in sectional finals, had reached the state tournament? No question the attendance would've jumped well past 40,000.
The fact of the matter is girls basketball in the area can be called the best in the state. Over the last two state tournaments, 10 titles have been won and six of those champs are from the FOX 11 viewing area, while one other team won a silver ball.
And in the last two seasons 10 area teams have qualified for the state tournament and when you have that much local representation, bigger crowds will be the result.
The Resch Center has one year left on a two-year contract and then the Kohl Center becomes available again to host the girls state tournament. But after this weekend is the Kohl Center the best place?
I've been to the Kohl Center multiple times for the girls tournament and the difference in atmosphere was obvious. The smaller Resch Center made each game better while the spacious Kohl Center at times is a stale atmosphere.
Furthermore, more than one person talked to me about the Resch Center compared to the Kohl Center and there wasn't one negative. A boys basketball coach from downstate told me he liked the Resch Center better than the Kohl Center because of the parking, the venue and the restaurants nearby were not as crowded as Madison's.
Some media members said they liked the ease of parking and walking to the Resch Center from the Lambeau Field parking lot. Parking in Madison, if you haven't been there for a state tournament, can be brutal, especially on Thursday and Friday.
And maybe most important, the Green Bay area wants the tournament here. The area promoted the tournament more than Madison ever has and made it a special event. Also, it helps that each team had the opportunity to have a Lambeau Field tour.
In Madison, the tournament has never had that special feeling and the 20 teams visiting deserve that.
Time will tell what happens, but after this past weekend, there is no question the Resch Center is a better place for the girls tournament than the Kohl Center.
Players like the Resch
Last season, after Kewaunee won the state title in Madison and it seemed possible the tournament could move to the Resch Center, I remember Kewaunee players saying they hoped the tournament would remain at the Kohl Center.
But after repeating as Division 3 state champs this past weekend at the Resch Center, the Kewaunee players actually liked the experience of being close to home.
"It was very different from the Kohl Center, staying in our own bed; having more free time to ourselves," senior Jill Kleiman said. "We had the home-court advantage and we're able to sleep in our bed like a normal day."
"We felt like we made this our home court … we wanted to own it," senior Kelsey Stangel said. "We were close to home, we got to sleep in our own beds which was amazing. It felt like a normal game so even the nerves felt less."
Notre Dame junior Eliza Campbell also enjoyed the home cooking.
"The crowd brought us a lot of energy," Campbell said. "It was amazing. They really helped out throughout the whole tournament. They were like our sixth man."
LeClaire, Kleiman and Schmidt show their worth
One thing in common the local state championship teams have is an effective point guard, who doesn't have to score 15 or 20 points to make an impact.
Notre Dame's Allie LeClaire, Algoma's Taylor Schmidt and Kleiman combined to score 23 points in their title games, with Kleiman scoring the most with 11, but it didn't matter.
Their ability to handle the other teams' pressure was key in each win. LeClaire, time and time again, broke pressure against defensive-minded New Berlin Eisenhower as did Schmidt against Colfax. In each case their ability to handle the ball allowed the offense to get going.
Meanwhile, Kleiman made the biggest play of the state tournament when she beat her defender and fed Alex Richard for the game-winning basket at the buzzer against East Troy.
Everybody pays attention to points in basketball because it's how many players are judged. Nonetheless, this trio displayed you can have an impact on a game, and a huge game at that, without scoring a bunch of points.
In each case, if these teams didn't have these point guards they never would have had a chance to win a gold ball.
It pays to have a quality point guard.
Area all-tournament team
The state tournament has an all-tournament team, but why not have an area all-tournament team? Here it is:
- Kelsey Stangel, Kewaunee: She scored 44 points in two games, including 27 in the state final. Was named MVP of tournament and also is area MVP.
- Alex Richard, Kewaunee: Richard scored the winning basket in the state title game and totaled 30 points.
- Jill Kleiman, Kewaunee: The point guard had the title-clinching assist and scored 19 points in two games.
- Taylor Schmidt, Algoma: In the state semifinal, Schmidt was superb, totaling13 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals. In the championship game, she was limited to five points but her ball handling was solid.
- Kennedy Blahnik, Algoma: Blahnink scored 30 points and had 19 rebounds in two games. She was Algoma's rock.
- Allie LeClaire, Notre Dame: Her ability to push the ball and open offense for others was obvious in a 14-point, 5-assist game in a semifinal. In state title game, she had just five points but was great against New Berlin Eisenhower's pressure, totaling one turnover.
- Eliza Campbell, Notre Dame: Campbell had 13 points, six rebounds and five steals in semifinal win and added seven points and six rebounds in the tate championship.
- Brianna Byrne, Notre Dame: The senior was the only Triton to hit double figures in both state tournament games, scoring 22 total points. She also had four assists and two blocks in the state final.
- Brenna Heise, New London: The senior scored 19 points in a semifinal loss, ending a great career.
- Mickey Roland, New London: She had 11 points and 14 rebounds in the semifinal loss.
—(Note: Stangel, Blahnik and Richard were named to the all-tournament team).
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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