The McFarland High School girls’ basketball team was involved in a seesaw battle Jan. 7 at Brodhead to begin a 2021 season shortened by COVID-19.
In the end, free-throw shooting was the turning point of the game, as the Cardinals hit 17-of-31 from the line to beat the Spartans 57-52 in a gym that included only the players, coaches, and game officials but no fans in compliance with pandemic restrictions established by the Rock Valley Conference.
Spartans head coach Sara Mallegni said her team played very well despite the different atmosphere.
“The team did a tremendous job of finding energy and bringing energy for their teammates,” she said. “They were loud, cheering, talking, excited for great plays, and involved in the game.”
McFarland will be forced to play all its games outside of Dane County after county health officials imposed limits on public gatherings.
Brodhead’s Abbie Dix, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, led the team with 15.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in 2019-20 as a freshman. McFarland returns 6-foot-2 senior Katie Hildebrandt, who contributed 14.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season. Both Dix and Hildebrandt were named to the All-Rock Valley Conference first team.
Hildebrandt has already signed of letter of intent to play women’s college basketball at North Dakota State University.
The game was also the varsity debut of three freshmen – 5-foot-11 Teagan Mallegni, Ava Dean and Brynn Kirch – who are expected to make an impact with McFarland.
Brodhead led 20-12 with 8:18 remaining in the half, but the Spartans scored 10 in a row to take a 22-20 advantage at the five-minute mark. The Cards hit four free throws to regain the lead but Hildebrandt’s two free throws with five seconds remaining tied the game 24-24 at halftime.
Teagan Mallegni got hot in the second half from under the basket and along the arc as the Spartans led 42-37 with 8:30 left in regulation. But Brodhead went on an 19-8 run to open a 56-50 lead with 30 seconds to play.
Much of the damage was done by Dix, who hit 7-of-10 free throws and scored 19 of Brodhead’s 33 second-half points. She ended with a game-high 28 points.
Coach Mallegni called Dix a workhorse who battled for every rebound and loose ball, and was firmly positioned under the hoop.
“Overall, we did a good job of getting box outs, but with Abbie, it is critical to allow her only one shot,” she said. “Boxing out on her lay-ups is so important. Those second shots are killers.”
The Spartans, who committed 21 total fouls, made 3-of-3 from the line, all in the first half.
Teagan Mallegni led McFarland with 15 points, blocked three shots and grabbed three rebounds. Lonigro scored eight points, and Hildebrandt, Brynn Kirch and Adrienne Kirch each tallied seven. Hildebrandt led the team with nine rebounds.
It was a good start for the Spartans, who lost four seniors to graduation, including guards Kynaeda Gray and Libby Dommisee, and forwards Freya Gilbertson and Peyton Witt.
Five-foot-eight guard Morgan Butler will be a senior captain along with Hildebrandt and Lonigro. Other players include sophomores Brynne Bieri and Adrienne Kirch, and juniors Maddie Fortune, Serenity Smith, Chloe Goecks and Megan Gates.
As for freshmen Teagan Mallegni, Ava Dean and Brynn Kirch, coach Mallegni said the trio has worked hard in practice, and it has fit in quite well with the upperclassmen.
“They really round out an incredible group of returners and we are very excited where this team can go with the kind of mental toughness, skill, and work ethic that this varsity team has,” coach Mallegni said. “Nerves were a little factor, especially the first half, but now that first game is under their belts, I don’t see that being an issue going forward.”