It’s taken some time, but it looks like the Portage girls basketball team has found its groove.
Following a difficult start to the season, the Warriors have won four straight games and five of their last six, including winning the Lakeland Holiday Tournament in Minocqua during the winter break, to improve to 6-8 overall. As strong as Portage has looked, it will have its streak put to the test this weekend in the Badger Conference Challenge.
The inaugural two-day event at Stoughton High School pairs the Badger North Conference against the Badger South Conference based on standings. That means the Warriors (3-4 Badger North), will have to go against one of the best players in the state when they take on Monona Grove (7-5, 3-4 Badger South) and star McKenna Warnock at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
According to Wissports.net, the 6-foot-2 Warnock has already received 51 Division I scholarship offers, including all four Division I schools in Wisconsin, as well as North Carolina and Stanford. The junior has garnered plenty of college interest for good reason. Warnock has played in all but one of the Silver Eagles’ 12 games this season, averaging 28.9 points per game.
“She’s athletic, tall, can shoot from anywhere and if you foul her, she’s going to make her free throws,” Portage coach Jessica Howe said.
Warnock’s been held to under 20 points just once this season and has surpassed the 30-point mark six times, including a season-high 42 points in the team’s season-opener. Along with her scoring prowess, Warnock has frustrated opponents on the glass, grabbing 13.5 rebounds per game, while adding 2.7 assists and 3.2 steals per contest.
As strong as Warnock is on her own, Howe noted that one of the highly-touted recruit’s best attributes is her unselfishness. It shows in the Silver Eagles’ depth as junior Kaylee Kellogg is averaging 9.9 points and three other Monona Grove players are scoring at least six points per game.
“It’s going to take good quality defense,” Howe said, noting the importance of keeping the Silver Eagles off the free throw line.
The Warriors will also need to be effective on the offensive end to keep up with a Monona Grove team averaging 70.8 points per game. Even though Portage is averaging just 52.6 points, the Warriors have improved during their current four-game stretch. Portage has scored 70 points or more in three of the four wins, including a thrilling come-from-behind 84-80 overtime victory over Sauk Prairie last Friday.
The leader during the Warriors’ current streak has been leading scorer MacKenzie Roth. The 5-foot-6 junior guard, who is averaging 14 points per game, has upped her game, averaging 25.3 points per contest during the winning streak, including 33 points against Sauk Prairie.
“I’m just seeing more maturity on and off the court,” Howe said. “At practice, she’s playing differently. Before she knew she could score, but now she’s not satisfied and knows if she can score, she’s going to open doors for her teammates.”
Sophomore McKena Yelk and junior Tessa Wilson have been the main beneficiaries. The duo, averaging 10.5 and 9.1 points per game, have contributed 10.6 and 12.5 points per contest during the current stretch. Howe knows the Warriors need to utilize that depth against Monona Grove, and how crucial another victory against a strong team can be.
“It keeps our momentum going, which is difficult in basketball, let alone in our conference,” she said. “And it can help to build our confidence for us.”