The difficult task of toppling the No. 1-ranked team in the state appeared to get much harder mere minutes into the Jan. 3 clash between undefeated squads Arrowhead and Mukwonago.
But with its lineup of two freshmen and two sophomores, Mukwonago's girls basketball team quickly compromised a 10-0 deficit to start the game, chipped away when Arrowhead went on another 10-0 run in the first half and ultimately pulled away for a huge 58-46 win at MHS.
Freshman Dru Henning scored 18 points and led four MHS players in double figures as MHS moved to 10-0 and took early control of the Classic 8 Conference.
“It was not the start (to the game) that we wanted, but these girls have been outstanding all year,” MHS coach Rick Kolinske said. “I knew they wouldn’t falter; they wouldn’t let that lack of a good start impact us. But I think any coach would be worried when you start the game out against a team like that, down 10-0. It just took us a few minutes to kind of get going.”
As flashy a start as it was for Arrowhead, Mukwonago pulled to within 11-10 after back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore Natalie Andersen (10 points), then took the lead on a Henning basket with 10:20 still to play in the first half. Arrowhead went on a second 10-0 run to pull ahead, 26-17, to which Mukwonago responded with 9 straight points. A technical foul on Kolinske with 3.3 seconds before half allowed Arrowhead an extra set of free throws and possession, but AHS scored just 1 point out of it to hold a 30-26 edge at the break.
Mukwonago didn’t seize control of the game until the final seven minutes, a stretch in which Arrowhead was held to one field goal. Henning scored 6 straight points to give her team a 46-43 lead, and Nikki Huber hit consecutive baskets to break a 46-46 tie at the 3:55 and 3:06 mark off assists from sophomore Grace Beyer (12 points) and Henning. Mukwonago closed the game hitting eight straight free throws to create separation.
“All of us just kind of pulled it together and wanted to pick up the intensity,” Beyer said. “We were focused on a lot of their shooters. They have a ton of shooters, and we were sinking and helping out. That’s what our defensive principles are.”
Arrowhead’s shooters were on point in the first half, draining five 3-pointers, followed by three more in the first half of the second session. Megan Peterson, who closed the first half with three fouls, hit a pair of those at the outset of the second half. But the lid went on the basket thereafter.
“It can be such an alluring sort of feeling when those threes are going in, but you know it doesn’t last,” Arrowhead coach Rick Witte said. “It would be nice to hit 18 threes, but — statistically speaking — you know it’s not going to happen. We needed to get the ball to the rim. Mukwonago took away that lane. I still thought we could have gotten there — too many no-pass shots, one-pass shots. We just couldn’t find a rhythm.”
Mukwonago, a returning state finalist which came into the game ranked No. 5 in the state, now already has wins over the three teams that appear to be the greatest challengers in the Classic 8: Kettle Moraine, Waukesha West and Arrowhead. Mukwonago was down in the final minutes against KM by 11 points before rattling off 22 straight points.
“We just keep fighting,” Henning said. “We’re a team that keeps fighting. We get down, but we don’t put our heads down. We’re just a big family. We all get along; doesn’t matter what age we are.”
Added Kolinske, “(Henning) is fearless, but this is a group where anyone can step up on any night. I think everyone was a little concerned in terms of our youth, but that hasn’t come into play to this point. I couldn’t be prouder of this team. This is such a tight-knit group, and that goes a long way in terms of our strength this year.”
Arrowhead, which fell to 10-1, remains one of the state’s top teams, and not only will the squads meet again, but they could face off at the state tournament in Green Bay, competing in separate sectionals. The Warhawks were playing without starting point guard Karissa Hucke, who hit her head in a game between the holidays, and Peterson's foul trouble meant Arrowhead had to restrict its pressure defense with its lack of available guards. It was the first time Arrowhead played in a tight game all season.
“I thought this group buckled a little bit under that pressure,” Witte said. “It turned into more of a one-man show on offense instead of us moving the ball, working together. It looked like we were down 11 when we were 2 and 3.
“Prosperity is not a great teacher,” Witte added. “We’ll learn more from this than we have the entire rest of our body of work. We’ll see what this team is made of. The individual struggle and collective struggle, if we can learn from it and move forward, this might be the best thing for us.”
Liz Erdmann finished with 15 points for Arrowhead, and Caitlyn Harper posted 10.
Mukwonago continues winning ways
On Jan. 6, Mukwonago took down Waukesha North, 79-50. Angie Cera led MHS with 19 points and five 3-pointers. Beyer had 14 points, five rebounds and four steals. Andersen also contributed 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals.
Katie LeGrand had 10 points, and Huber compiled six steals.
"We were able to jump out to a very early lead at 24–5," Kolinske said. "From this point, the Northstars couldn't get any closer than 15 points back. It was a great team win for us. Every girl on the team was able to get into the scoring column for us."
One day later on Jan. 7, Mukwonago beat Messmer, 67-46. Beyer had 21 points and four assists. Andersen and Huber scored 11 points each. Huber led the team in steals with four. Cera contributed 10 points.
"We started off slowly, but were able to build a 15-point lead at the half," Kolinske said. "Messmer was never able to get any closer than that. I thought the girls did a great job. We went on to win in convincing fashion."