Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
Coaches and players want to take it one game at a time, stay focused, think about the next opponent and nothing more, et cetera, et cetera.
Well, not me.
With the 2012 hoops season under way, it’s never too early to take a look at the postseason layout and what kind of path area teams must face to get to Madison (or Green Bay!). It should be an exciting year for some teams in the Lake Country Publications coverage area, particularly the two teams at Sussex Hamilton and Mukwonago, as well as the Oconomowoc and Arrowhead boys.
Sussex Hamilton opens the year ranked third in the Wissports.net preseason poll for Division 1, making the Chargers a favorite to reach the Resch Center. But the road won’t be easy.
To reach the sectional final, the Chargers might have to get past Waukesha West (the team that ousted Hamilton last year and should contend for a Classic 8 title with several key pieces back) and Menomonee Falls (which returns considerable talent from a Greater Metro title contender). The Chargers did defeat Falls twice last year, including once in overtime.
Hamilton, which returns four starters from last year’s squad, could meet De Pere in the sectional final. That team is ranked No. 4 in the Wissports poll after winning last year’s Division 1 state title and returns two starters (the top two scorers). Bay Port is another strong squad on the other side of the sectional.
Arrowhead, under first year coach Rick Witte, will also appear in Hamilton’s half of the sectional. Though the Warhawks lost Classic 8 Player of the Year Jenny Smith, the team will always represent a threat. Smith’s younger sister Kelly Smith could emerge as one of the area’s top talents. Don’t forget about another school in that group, Kettle Moraine, which returns a number of talented players and could be a sleeper under first-year coach Janine Emmer.
Mukwonago, which also returns a boatload and adds an extremely talented freshman in UWGB recruit Breanna Cera, holds the No. 9 ranking in that first poll. The team has good guard play (Jenny Tuttle) and post play (Amber Gray) from its senior class and should take a quantum leap forward after a 12-12 record last year.
No. 8 Janesville Parker should be the biggest obstacle in Mukwonago’s half of the sectional, with a pair of double-digit scorers returning, notably first-team All Conference choice Ashley Hartwig. Muskego will also be one of the chief threats.
The sectional final could feature perennially tough Middleton or Sun Prairie, but neither team is in the preseason top 10. This is a nice situation for the Indians.
Oconomowoc, meanwhile, must replace five starters and could be in for a transition year. The Raccoons are in that same pod with Middleton and Sun Prairie, joining Watertown with a grouping of otherwise Madison-area schools.
Pewaukee, nestled in Division 2, will see many conference foes in its half of the sectional, with No. 2 New Berlin Eisenhower perennially (and once again) the toughest squad to beat. No. 10 South Milwaukee and New Berlin West (honorable mention) will also present challenges for a Pirates team that must rebuild after graduating a tremendous senior class.
Mukwonago had a golden opportunity last year and capitalized, playing in a half-sectional against teams without many winning records and storming to the sectional final. That opportunity should be there once again.
Burlington, the team Mukwonago defeated to reach the sectional final, is in the honorable mention category in the preseason poll and should be the stiffest test. Mukwonago heads into the season ranked No. 10.
The opposite side of the sectional presents a number of challenges – notably No. 2 Sun Prairie and No. 6 Madison Memorial, as well as honorable-mention choices Madison LaFollette and Oconomowoc. But Mukwonago wouldn’t have to get through more than one of those teams to reach state.
Cooney, however, has its hands full. The Raccoons will be very solid this year, with multiple returnees (including Division 1 candidate T.J. Schlundt), but the team will be fighting for the same turf with Sun Prairie, led by Nebraska recruit Nick Fuller, and Memorial, a returning state qualifier led by Brendan Ortiz and Jester Weah.
Still, this Oconomowoc team is primed to make plenty of noise during both the regular season and postseason.
Arrowhead and Sussex Hamilton engaged in a thrilling battle last year in the playoffs, one that ended with a buzzer-beating win for the Chargers, and both will be among the top teams in their half of the sectional this time around.
Both are honorable-mention picks in the preseason poll, along with Homestead. Waukesha West and Kettle Moraine could be sleepers in that mix, with the Lasers returning multiple key contributors.
However, the class of the field should be defending state champion Germantown once again. The Warhawks graduated four starters from last year’s team, but one of them was not 6-11 Indiana recruit Luke Fischer, and Homestead transfer LaMonte Bearden plus a number of key pieces stepping into more prominent roles make Germantown the No. 1 team heading into 2012-13.
As if the path wasn’t arduous enough, No. 3 DePere is waiting on the other side of the sectional. Guard Adam Beyer and sophomore shooter Brevin Pritzl are among the returnees from a team that lost only twice last year – both to Germantown.
A rebuilding Pewaukee will have an uphill battle in Division 2, though its half of the sectional looks wide open.
Catholic Memorial, Whitnall and New Berlin Eisenhower all enter the year as honorable mention choices in the Division 2 poll, but none are ranked yet. Personally, I would anticipate CMH rising to ranked status at some point.
No. 4 Milwaukee Washington, No. 7 Wisconsin Lutheran and No. 8 Whitefish Bay are the top teams in the other half of the sectional, which is also loaded with honorable-mention squads Milwaukee Pius, Milwaukee Morse and Messmer.
Pictured: Mukwonago boys coach Jim Haasser and the Indians run defensive drills at an opening-week basketball practice.