Pacelli girls look to hang Conference Banner this season
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With some key contributors back from last year, the Pacelli Catholic High School girls basketball team has its sights set on winning a Conference Title for the first time since it joined the WIAA in 2000.
The Cardinals return four of their top seven scorers from a year ago, when they finished 17-7 for their first winning season since 2007-08.
Pacelli had a test in its Central Wisconsin Conference (CWC) South opener at the Student Activities Center Tuesday, Dec. 4, as the Cardinals trailed Rosholt for most of the game, until they rallied in the final minutes to win 51-49 and improve to 3-0.
“We have four returnees from the rotation, and then we have three seniors that I’m hoping to get some contributions from,” said Pacelli girls basketball third-year head coach Jake Jalling. “I’m very proud of the team overall, and we’ll see how we go from here.”
Pacelli lost Honorable Mention All-CWC South guard Jenelle Higgins and starters Morgan Kuckkahn and Claire Rogers from last year’s team that finished second in the CWC South, before its run come to an end with a 59-27 loss to eventual Sectional Finalist Marathon in a WIAA Division 4 Regional Final.
The Cardinals are led by the return of Unanimous First Team All-CWC South junior forward Sarah Mueller and Second Team All-CWC-South senior forward Amanda Klasinski, while sophomore guards Emma Van Order and Sami Miller have moved into the starting lineup this season.
“I can’t really say enough about Sarah, Unanimous First Team All-Conference last year, and we’re looking to get a lot out of her,” said Jalling. “Amanda was second on the team in scoring (last season) and she’s kind of seen herself drop to four, but it doesn’t bother her, she’s just more concerned about getting the team victories, and as a senior, leadership-wise, you can’t really ask for much more than that.
“And I’m really excited to see Emma’s and Sami’s progress now, taking that jump their sophomore year,” he said. “Sami got a little bit of time last year as a freshman, but overall we’re looking for her to step up now, and Emma developed a nice shot over the summer and is also our primary ball handler.”
Senior guard Teesa Shafranski also has moved into the starting lineup for the Cardinals, with senior guard Grace Van Handel and senior Maddy Hinaus part of the team’s rotation, while freshman Kylie Struble and sophomores Kaitlyn Klasinski, Grace Repinski and Emily Grezenski are in the mix for playing time.
“Teesa is a tenacious defender, very physical, and she likes to get after it,” said Jalling. “Grace played her freshman year, and now she’s back out this year as a senior and is the same type of player as Teesa, very quick and very explosive.
“And Maddie is getting her first taste of varsity, similar to Teesa, they’ve been in the outside looking in on in the rotation, and now they’re finally getting their time,” he said.
Pacelli opened this season with a 41-25 win at home over Weyauwega-Fremont Nov. 15, and followed with a 52-20 win at Marion Nov. 27.
That led into the Cardinals’ CWC South opener against Rosholt Tuesday night, where Rosholt built a 20-12 lead with 6:41 to play in the first half, and went into halftime with a 32-26 advantage.
Pacelli continued to trail throughout the second half and was down 44-37 with 8:10 left, when Mueller took over down low after Rosholt senior forward Justine Ganski fouled out.
Mueller scored the final six points in a 10-0 run that gave Pacelli a 47-44 lead with 2:05 to play, and Amanda Klasinski knocked down a pair of free throws to cap the 12-0 run that increased the lead to 49-44 with 1:08 remaining.
Rosholt used a three-point play and a jumper to tie the game at 49-49 with 44.4 seconds to go, but Amanda Klasinski hit two more free throws with 36.3 seconds left to give Pacelli a 51-49 lead.
Following a Rosholt turnover and a pair of missed free throws from the Cardinals with 11.5 seconds to go, Rosholt missed a runner in the lane, and Mueller pulled down the rebound with 3.1 seconds remaining and was able to run out the rest of the clock to seal the 51-49 victory.
“The energy really helped from everyone,” said Mueller. “Especially our bench, and everyone that was able to come off the bench and do their role, was really important.”
“Credit to our girls that continued to battle throughout the night and did not give up,” said Jalling. “And fortunately for us, we never allowed the lead to get to double digits, so I think that definitely helped, and mentally kept us in the game.
“When (Ganski) went out of the game, obviously that’s when Sarah kind of started to take over, and ultimately fueled us to the victory,” he said.
Mueller finished with 28 points and Miller scored 14 to lead the Cardinals, who are set to play at Tri-County at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, before they host Pittsville at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Last season Tri-County went 12-0 to win the CWC South Title over Pacelli (9-3), Port Edwards (8-4), Wild Rose (6-6), Rosholt (5-7), Almond-Bancroft (2-10) and Pittsville (0-12).
“The three teams that we’re keeping our eye on are Port, Wild Rose, and then Rosholt,” said Jalling. “We knew what we were going to get with Rosholt, and I told the girls before the game, ‘don’t take them lightly, because they were young last year, and coming in they were going to have some talent,’ and they showed it.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best every night, and I was glad we were able to persevere it through it (Tuesday) and get to 1-0,” he said.
Miller said that the girls on the team have a lot of drive, and that they are really determined to get what they want this season.
“Our main goal this year is to win conference,” said Miller. “The girls haven’t won conference for years here, so it’s a big goal for us.”
“We definitely want to try and win a Conference Title, and we would love to host a playoff game like we did last year,” said Jalling. “Ultimately, one of our higher goals is to get a higher seed, to potentially host two playoff games to give us a shot to get into Sectionals.
“They got a taste of the Regional Final last year, and then we ran into a very good Marathon team, so they are hoping to get a home game and then go from there, just one game at a time, and hopefully bring a Regional Championship to Pacelli,” he said. “And that’s kind of our mantra this year, is to ‘hang a banner.’
“We’re the only program at the school that doesn’t have a banner in the gym (as a Conference Champion) since we moved to the WIAA,” he said. “So that’s the goal.”