The Sun Prairie girls basketball team has been taking steps. After reaching the WIAA sectional semifinals a year prior, the Cardinals advanced all the way to the sectional championship in 2018-19 before bowing out to eventual Division 1 state runner-up Middleton.
Obviously, the next step would be the WIAA state tournament, which would be a first for the program in 23 years.
In order to do so, the Cardinals coaching staff will have to come up with the right recipe for success.
“We’re experienced but also very young,” said John Olson, now in his 10th season as Sun Prairie head coach. “It’s just a matter of blending them together, it’ll take time. I told them at our first meeting that we have to be patient and be positive; there’s still a lot of high expectations, but at the same time there’s a lot of learning to do.
“It’ll be fun, but it also will take some time.”
But while the Cardinals return three starters and a handful of other factoring players, they will have to replace four key contributors, including two all-conference selections, going into the 2019-20 campaign. Lost to graduation were team-leading scorer and Lewis University recruit Grace Hilber, a first-team All-Big Eight Conference selection, and Alexis Baker, a second-team pick and Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year.
Also gone is Bailey Lutes, a junior who transferred to Cuba City and will play for her father, Brad. Lutes started all 26 games last season, averaging 7.5 ppg while leading the team in rebounds (138) and steals (64).
“With Grace gone, we’re looking for someone to step into the point guard position — Bailey would’ve been in there, but obviously she’s gone — there’s opportunities,” Olson said.
Third-team All-Big Eight selection Jazzany Seymore headlines the group of returning players. The 5-foot-11 junior post was second on the team in both scoring (10.3 ppg) and rebounding (4.9 rpb).
It was clear in Tuesday’s season opener that she’ll be a force to reckon with this season after dropping in a career-high 22 points in a 67-64 overtime win over Monona Grove.
“Jaz has been a little more vocal in the five practices we have had, and I think she is a leader. She just has to provide it on the court while keeping herself in a positive mode,” said Olson.
Another returning all-conference player is Ashley Rae. The 5-10 forward received third-team Big Eight recognition after averaging 8.1 ppg. She led the team with 26 blocks and also made 18 3-pointers, had 45 assists and had 29 steals.
“Ashley’s kind of our X-factor, she might have to play a lot of places. I think she actually can play inside while going outside to shoot a little bit,” Olson said of the third-year starter. “Her versatility will be something we’re going to look for.”
Juniors Grace Radlund and Maddie Strey were major contributors a season ago and could be in the starting lineup. Radlund (5-8, guard) made several starts while Baker was injured and averaged 2.5 points. She missed the final six games with a concussion.
“Grace is very smart defensively, has a good head on her shoulders and understands the concepts of what we’re trying to do; you don’t have to tell her too many times, you just say it once and she gets it,” Olson said. “If we would have had her last year (in the postseason) it would have really helped us defensively.”
Strey (5-10, forward) showed she could play in the paint with some of the best players in the Big Eight. She averaged 3.1 ppg and had 40 rebounds.
“Maddie worked on her game in the offseason,” Olson added.
Three freshmen will play a role as well, 5-9 wing Averee Antony, 5-9 post Marie Outlay and 5-8 guard Antionique Auston. Antony scored six points in the MG win, while Outlay poured in 18 and made two crucial free throws to send the game into overtime.
“We’re looking for Antionique to fill the point guard position, while Averee and Marie will play a lot,” said Olson.
Sun Prairie has just two seniors on its roster, 5-5 post Natalie Tiltrum and 5-10 wing ZaVeon Jones.
Juniors Olivia Kostelnik (5-9 wing) and Nahriah Alexander (5-9 guard), and sophomores Rachel Rademacher (5-9 guard), Madie Adkins (5-9 guard) and Lexie Wilberding (5-7 guard) round out the Cardinals’ roster.
Sun Prairie finished second in the Big Eight Conference behind Middleton with a 15-3 record, and finished 20-6 overall. Middleton advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament following a sectional final win over Sun Prairie, and finished as the state runner-up.
“We’ve got a tough Big Eight league and we’re young. It’ll take some time, but (I think) our time will come.”