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Girls basketball preview: Here's how the Badger East stacks up against powerhouse Beaver Dam
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Girls basketball preview: Here's how the Badger East stacks up against powerhouse Beaver Dam

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Prep girls basketball photo: Beaver Dam's Gabby Wilke

Beaver Dam's Gabby Wilke (left) defends Hartford's Kacy Kratz (5) during the first half of the Golden Beavers' 86-63 win over the Orioles on Friday night in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal game at Beaver Dam High School.

Can anyone knock off Beaver Dam?

That’s the question the new Badger East Conference must ask itself. Previously split into North and South, the Badger conferences now go by East and West, with two “pods” in each. The Badger East’s North pod consists of Beaver Dam, DeForest, Waunakee and Watertown, while the South pod has Fort Atkinson, Milton, Monona Grove and Stoughton.

Let’s break down this new-look Badger East.

The contenders

Beaver Dam: Despite losing their top three scorers after making the state quarterfinals in their first season competing in Division 1, several opposing coaches around the conference still believe the Golden Beavers (22-3 a year ago), winners of 54 straight in Badger Conference play, are the team to beat. Junior forward Kylie Wittnebel is the top returning scorer (8 points per game), followed by sophomore forward Gabby Wilke (7.8) and junior forward Carlee Lapen (5.1). This squad has now completely turned over from the 2018-19 team that won the most recent of three consecutive Division 2 state titles.

Monona Grove: Although 2020-21 top scorer Peighton Nelson is now playing in college, the Silver Eagles return their next three highest scorers from a season ago. Senior guard Avery Poole (9.2 points), senior guard Emily Clevidence (6.5) and junior wing Taylor Moreau (5.2, 4.1 rebounds) all come back looking to improve on a season that ended with a loss in the regional semifinals. Senior forward Paige Hanson averaged five rebounds a game.

Waunakee: Similarly, the Warriors lost their top scorer to graduation but bring back the next two highest scorers from a season ago. That would be senior forward Ashley Sawicki (11.4 points, 9 rebounds) and senior guard Lauren Meudt (8.6 points, 2.6 steals). In addition, senior forward Ava Bryan (3.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists) will step into a bigger role. The Warriors hope the veteran core has what it takes to advance beyond the WIAA regional championship.

The dark horses

DeForest: The Norskies return two starters and seven varsity letterwinners. Although leading scorer Grace Roth graduated, they bring back their next two best scorers in junior guard Jaelyn Derlein (10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds) and sophomore guard Rylan Oberg (9.9 ppg, 3.1 rebounds). Coach Jerry Schwenn expressed confidence in the team’s depth thanks to additional returnees such as junior guard Aspin Kelliher (5 points, 2.7 rebounds) and senior Maya Pickhardt (4.7 points, 3.1 rebounds).

Stoughton: The previous season was rough for Stoughton (2-8). However, the Vikings have their top three scorers coming back, headlined by senior guard Ava Loftus (11.6 points). Senior forwards Cora Borroughs (5.5 points, 1.0 steals) and Annie Tangeman (5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds) join Loftus. Factor in junior guard Ava Perkins, last season’s leader in assists per game (1.2), and Stoughton is in a strong position to improve to a competitive team in the conference.

Fort Atkinson: After upsetting Beloit Turner as a six-seed to reach the regional semifinals, the Blackhawks have all four of their top scorers coming back. Senior guard Taylor Marquart (13.9 points) and senior wing Tyla Staude (12.7 points) make up one of the top returning pair of scorers in the conference. Junior guard Elly Kohl (6.7 points) adds scoring depth, as does junior forward Brooke Christiansen (4.8 points), who’s 5-foot-11 stature pairs well with Marquart’s 5-foot-10 frame to give Fort Atkinson some good size.

The rest

Watertown: The Goslings lost their top three scorers after going 12-6, two of which averaged double figures. Sophomore Drew Hinrichs (5.8 points, 2.4 rebounds) is the top returning scorer, and senior guard Lily Gifford (5.1 points, 2.5 steals, 1.9 assists) is another bright spot. Watertown could certainly still be competitive, but it will require players up and down the roster taking steps up.

Milton: The Red Hawks (3-13) showed their fight last season with a road victory over Janesville Parker to open regionals. The good news is they bring back last season’s top three scorers in senior guard Saige Radke (8.1 points) and junior guards Sydney Kanable (7.4 points) and Tressa Shaw (5.8 points).

Must-watch games

Reedsburg at Beaver Dam, Dec. 4: The Golden Beavers currently are on a 54-game win streak against conference opponents, but if that streak gets through the first few weeks of the season, Reedsburg might have the best chance of ending it.

Waunakee at Monona Grove, Jan. 18: If another team is going to topple Beaver Dam, it might be one of these two. Winning this matchup could prove pivotal in the final conference standings, as it happens with less than a month left of regular season play.

 

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