In welcoming the Monroe Cheesemakers to the Waunakee High School Fieldhouse Tuesday night, the Waunakee girls’ basketball team was looking to make a statement.
The Cheesemakers were in last year’s Division 2 title game: Waunakee’s second game in a row against a team that played at the Resch center a year ago.
“It’s a huge win for our team,” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Marcus Richter of the Warriors 64-51 victory over Monroe. “When you open up with two teams that played in the state title game last year, it’s not easy.
Waunakee came out with an aggressive defense, looking for steals early and often. Tied at four, a pair of fast-break baskets off of steals by Kailee Meeker gave the Warriors a five-point lead.
“We’re a fast-paced team,” said Waunakee guard Elena Maier. “Defensively, we want them to pick the ball up, put it on the floor, pick the ball up right away. Make stops, get in their faces every time.”
The Warriors continued to play pesky defense, picking the ball away time after time as they steadily build a lead. With 11:23 left to play in the first half, Waunakee’s lead hit double digits off a basket from Elena Maier, forcing Monroe to take a timeout.
“We just have a ton of great athletes on this team; we put an emphasis on playing fast,” Richter added. “We put an emphasis on getting out and running in transition, playing that full-court defense, trying to wear the other team out.”
Up 21-11, the Cheesemakers stormed back with a quick 11-2 run, tying the game up at 23. What followed was the best stretch of the still young season for the Warriors. In the final seven minutes until halftime, Waunakee ripped off a 23-6 run, with nine of their 23 coming from Maier. To cap off the half, Maier drained a buzzer-beater, and the Warriors headed into the locker room with a 46-29 advantage.
“It was a lot of fun to see us score 46 points in the first half…” said Richter. “We do have a lot of talent; we do have a lot of girls who can score. It was a lot of fun to see different girls stepping up in different situations and making plays.”
As the second half began, it looked like business as usual; Waunakee extended their lead to 21 points just a couple minutes after play resumed. An extended cold streak, however, threatened to derail the Warriors’ victory.
With a 57-37 lead, the scoring dried up for Waunakee. The Warriors went nine minutes and 45 seconds without recording a single point. Fortunately, their defense kept them in the game, surrendering only 10 points for the duration of Waunakee’s scoreless stretch.
With their lead whittled down to 10 points – 57-47 – the Warriors once again turned to Maier.
“Elena’s a special player,” Richter said. “She finds a way to score within our offense; she’s never pressing.”
Needing a basket to prevent Monroe from closing the gap to single digits, Maier drilled a pair of shots – one beyond the arc – to push the Warrior lead to 15 points with three minutes to go.
The late buckets gave Maier a game-high 22, marking her first double-digit scoring output of the year.
“We needed more momentum…” said Maier of the late baskets. “We needed to score a bucket to get back; we did.”
Melanie Watson was the next-highest point-scorer the Warriors with 13, followed by Lauren Meudt, Lauren Statz and Kailee Meeker with seven. Sarah Bova added three, while Anne Dotzler and Ava Bryan rounded out the scoring with two points each.
With the win, Waunakee ups their record to 2-1. The Warriors will have an extended holiday break before returning to the court next Friday, when they travel to Mount Horeb to take on the Vikings in their Badger North opener. Tip time at Mount Horeb High School is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.