By Paul Lecker
The Auburndale girls basketball team enters the WIAA postseason healthy and leaning strongly on its inside players.
Senior Shannon Yahnke and juniors Taylor Gotz and Paiton Richardson give the Apaches an inside presence that will not be matched by many in the Division 4 playoffs. The trio combined for 37 points, 18 from Richardson, in a win over Athens on Tuesday.
Auburndale, which entered Saturday’s Marawood Conference third-place crossover game at Edgar with a 17-4 record, did enough during the regular season to earn a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the upcoming regional. The Apaches will host the winner of Tuesday’s game between Stratford and Stevens Point Pacelli on Feb. 27 in a regional final. With a win the Apaches would likely face No. 1 seed and Marawood South champion Marathon in a regional final on Feb. 28.
Auburndale handed Marathon (20-1) its only loss of the season back on Jan. 6, beating the Raiders 45-33.
Stratford (13-8) is the third seed in the same Division 4 regional as the Apaches and will host Pacelli (4-17) in a regional quarterfinal on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Junior guard Macie Frueh has been the leading scorer for most of the season for the Tigers, averaging 13 points per game during conference play. Center Andie Zuelke, the team’s top rebounder, along with Stratford’s other inside players, will have to play an important role, especially in a potential matchup with Auburndale. The Apaches swept a pair of games from Stratford this season.
“The key to make a long run in the playoffs is controlling teams that have strong posts in the paint,” Stratford coach Tammie Christopherson said. “We also have to play strong team defense and run an efficient offense. I personally feel that we have one of the toughest regionals in the state. Four out of the six teams currently have 13-plus wins.”
Spencer, 6-15 prior to Thursday’s Cloverbelt Conference crossover matchup with Chippewa Falls McDonell, is also in that same Division 4 regional.
The Rockets will play at Edgar (13-7) in a regional quarterfinal on Tuesday. The winner plays at top-seed Marathon in a regional semifinal Feb. 27.
Spencer has been inconsistent offensively this season but has scored at a better rate recently.
The Rockets have put up 39 points or more nine times since the first of the year after hitting that mark just twice in their first seven games.
Freshman Lexi Baehr and junior Nadia King have been the leaders of the Rockets’ offense as of late, each scoring in double figures four times in the past month.
In Division 1, Marshfield (15-6 going into Thursday’s game at Wausau East) is the No. 3 seed in its regional and will host No. 6 Eau Claire North (11-10) on Feb. 27 in a regional semifinal.
Marshfield senior guard Caitlin Michaelis is nearing the 1,200-point mark in her career and is the Tigers’ leading scorer at 13.3 points per game during Wisconsin Valley Conference action.
Junior McKayla Scheuer (12.5 ppg), senior Ellie Kummer (12.0 ppg) and junior post player Ema Fehrenbach (10 ppg) also score in double figures for the Tigers, giving them a balanced offensive attack.
Columbus Catholic (11-10 prior to Thursday’s game against Thorp) will face Greenwood (4-16) in a Division 5 regional quarterfinal at home on Tuesday.
The Dons have relied heavily on juniors Jess Trad and Abby Baierl to carry the scoring load. Coach Bryan DeVries said others need to step up for Columbus Catholic to go far in the playoffs.
“We will have to shoot the ball much better than we have been,” DeVries said. “We have lost Tara Brock for the season due to a knee injury, so all of our players have to step up their games and play much more physical basketball. Hannah Stratman, Alishia Reigel, and Meena Thill have got to take some of the scoring burden off of Abby Baierl and Jessica Trad.”
A win on Tuesday would most likely set up a regional semifinal against Cloverbelt Conference East Division champion Loyal, the third-ranked team in the state in Division 5. Loyal (19-2) beat the Dons by 25 and 30 points in their two conference matchups this season.
“We will have to play extremely well just to be competitive,” DeVries said. “If we are on our game and shoot the ball well for all four quarters, we hope to make a game of it.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.