Entering this season, there were question marks swirling around the Sun Prairie girls basketball team. Starting the season without last year’s leading scorer, junior guard Antionique Auston, and with only two seniors on the roster, there was reason to wonder about the team’s ceiling. Those question marks have been turned into exclamation marks.

Sun Prairie, ranked the No. 9 team in Division 1, knocked off Big Eight rival Verona, which entered the game ranked No. 7 in Division 1, by a score of 46-34 on Tuesday, Nov. 30. This was Sun Prairie’s second big conference win of the season, having already beaten a solid La Follette team a week earlier. With the win, the Cardinals improve to a 2-0 conference record and a 4-0 record overall.

Verona was deserving of a high ranking entering the contest. Participants in last year’s Division 1 state semifinals, the Wildcats returned a majority of their production from last year’s roster. No amount of returning production could have prepared them for the defensive performance Sun Prairie put on to start the game, though.

The Cardinals erupted for a 19-3 run to kick the game off. It wasn’t just hot shooting that fueled this run. Sun Prairie had the defensive dial turned up to 10. Junior forward Makiah Hawk ran the middle of the Cardinals’ 2-3 zone and made her presence felt immediately, blocking two shots.

Hawk’s imposing presence in the paint forced Verona to swing the ball around more between the guards. This was the perfect opportunity for juniors Avree Antony and Marie Outlay to use their quick reflexes and high basketball IQ to jump passes. Outlay got two fast break scores and Antony provided one as well as the lead grew.

That quick scoring outburst from Sun Prairie carried into a 33-13 lead entering halftime. Even with the break, the defensive pressure never let up on the Sun Prairie end.

Hawk kept up her rejections, tallying two more in the second half for a total of four on the game. Her dominance in the paint forced Verona to over-dribble, where the Cardinals took advantage. Outlay led the way, getting a few more fast breaks as Sun Prairie collected 14 steals in total on the day.

The Wildcats managed to mount a bit of a comeback down the stretch, outscoring Sun Prairie 21-13 in the second half, but the damage was too great to overcome. The Cardinals left with an impressive 46-34 road win and bragging rights until the two teams meet again in late January.

Outlay, buoyed by her fast breaks and 3-point shooting, led the team in scoring with 17. Antony was the only other Cardinals in double digits with 11. Verona was led in scoring by junior guard Megan Murphy and senior guard Anna Nielsen, both of whom had nine.

Sun Prairie should expect a significant jump in the polls, assuming they take care of business against Madison East on Friday, Dec. 3. The winless Purgolders were mauled by La Follette, 84-48, on Tuesday.

That game against East is the beginning of a 3-game home conference stand for Sun Prairie. Following the game on Friday, Sun Prairie will host Janesville Craig on Thursday, Dec. 9 and Beloit Memorial on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

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