This Saturday’s finale at the Badger Challenge at Stoughton High School, an event where teams from the Badger North Conference and Badger South Conference play each other based on current standings, might be a WIAA Division 2 state semifinals preview.
It is definitely a state semifinals rematch.
And most of all, it is definitely a much-anticipated match-up between the Cheesemakers (13-1, 7-0 Badger South), ranked second in Division 2 according to the WisSports.net Coaches poll and third according to the Associated Press, and the Golden Beavers (10-2, 7-0 Badger North), who are the top-ranked team in both polls and the defending Division 2 state champs.
Both teams lead their respective divisions and thus get top billing at the Badger Challenge.
And with so much talent on the floor and — for now anyway — state bragging rights at stake, it figures to provide a taste of March Madness a couple months early.
“You would think that it’s going to have some of that toughness and some of that physicalness that you sometimes see in a playoff game or a tournament type game,” Monroe head coach Sam Mathiason said. “That will come with it, where every possession becomes really important and loose balls become cherished.”
For the Cheesemakers, whose only loss was a 58-57 defeat to Morton out of Illinois, Beaver Dam will bring some specific challenges that not very many teams in the state pose.
“I think that’s what maybe sometimes is overlooked about Beaver Dam is the defense that they play, whether it’s the full-court trap, press, or half-court trap, or just their man-to-man defense in the half court,” Mathiason said. “I think we’re just going to have to be able to handle the multiple looks that Beaver Dam will show us, and be able to try to find the openings and be able to make some shots against that.”
But it doesn’t just end with cracking Beaver Dam’s defense. Mathiason is also tasked with coming up with a game plan that will slow a Golden Beavers’ offense that is averaging 71.7 points a game and has seven girls averaging 7.4 points per game or more.
“We’re going to have to do a good job defensively to try to limit them,” Mathiason said. “They’ve got so many different players that can score in so many different ways that it becomes a challenge of which player you have to try to take away, because they have so many that can score in a variety of different ways.”
Freshman Maty Wilke – who according to WisSports.net has NCAA DI offers from North Dakota, Marquette, Wisconsin, UW-Green Bay, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and UW-Milwaukee – leads Beaver Dam at 11.8 points a game, and junior Tara Stauffacher – who has verbally committed to Wisconsin – is putting up 10.2 points a game.
After that, senior Maryn Ferron is averaging 9.6 points and sophomore Jada Donaldson is netting 8.3 points a game, while senior Afton Bartol (7.5), junior Paige Schumann (7.4) and junior Aly Van Loo (7.4) are all also capable of being Beaver Dam’s leading scorer.
“You look at the personnel Beaver Dam has and the scholarship offers that have been made,” Mathiason said. “They have a lot of high-talented individuals, but I think that’s what makes them special is they play as a team in how they seem to be unselfish. Clearly with that level of talent, any one of them, on any given night, could be going for way more points than what they do. They seem like they share the ball and they seem like they are able to play together in that regard.
“That’s what makes it tough.”
Mathiason is in familiar territory coaching against Beaver Dam, having lost twice to the Golden Beavers last season. In their first meeting last season, Monroe suffered a 70-49 loss at home in early December. The second meeting didn’t go any better for Monroe, as it lost 62-47 loss in the state semifinals.
Monroe will certainly learn a lot about itself Saturday night when it goes up against Beaver Dam, a team that beat two of Minnesota’s best two weeks ago before losing in overtime to nationally-ranked Hopkins, also from Minnesota.
“It appears they’ve played some really high-quality teams. They’ve gone out to try to challenge themselves and to try to make themselves better,” Mathiason said of the Beavers.
Monroe has improved since last year too. In fact, Mathiason and the Cheesemakers still have three core players from that team in junior point guard Sydney Hilliard, who is averaging 21.2 points a game, Emily Benzschawel, who’s putting up 15.7 points a game, and Sydney Mathiason, who is averaging 12.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks a game.
Hilliard has NCAA Division I offers from Wisconsin, Marquette, UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, South Dakota State, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska, according to WisSports.net.
Sydney Mathiason has an offer from DI Eastern Illinois, the same program Beaver Dam junior Paige Schumann has verbally committed to.
Monroe’s Rachel Meier, Grace Tostrud (8.4 points per game), Megan Benzschawel (6.8 rebounds) and Grace Mathiason are some others to keep an eye on Saturday.
And with this being such a big game, there figure to be plenty of eyes watching, too.
“Obviously, there will be some buzz around this game just based on some state rankings,” Sam Mathiason said. “(But) we look at it as the next game on the schedule to try to figure out, are we going to be good enough on Saturday night to beat the team that we have, and (do so) knowing that Beaver Dam might be the best team in the state? What’s the challenge they have in the way that they play? We know that it’s going to be a great challenge.
“I know that our kids will be ready to play.”