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Mace on defense

Wisconsin Dells senior Jenna Mace plays defense in the second half of a Division 3 sectional championship game against Hayward in Chippewa Falls on Saturday.

WISCONSIN DELLS — When the seeds were announced for the WIAA state girls basketball tournament on Sunday, it came to a surprise to some that Wisconsin Dells was seeded fourth out of the four teams in the Division 3 field.

Many members of the Wisconsin Dells team thought they deserved better, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be embracing the role of underdog when they take the court at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon on Thursday at 1:35 p.m. to face Marshall in a Division 3 state semifinal game

“The seeds don’t mean anything. We’re all kind of in the same boat,” Wisconsin Dells junior center Jamie Pfeifer said. “Eventually, you’re going to play each other; it doesn’t really matter what seed we are. But we definitely feel motivated that we definitely should have been the No. 1 seed.”

Wisconsin Dells has been overlooked all season, even though it heads into the tournament with a 24-game winning streak and a 25-1 overall record.

In the Coaches Poll, the Chiefs didn’t crack the top 10 rankings until coming in at ninth in the final two weeks of the season. In the Associated Press poll, the Chiefs were not ranked in the top 10 until landing in the ninth spot in the final poll of the season.

“When we all first found out (about the seeds), we weren’t upset with it at all. We’re happy to be here and we’re excited to be playing,” said junior Katelyn Meister, who leads the Chiefs in scoring at 19.3 points per game. “It doesn’t really matter to me; I’m just happy to be there. I feel like the seeding is the least of our concerns right now. We’re just going to play our hardest. It doesn’t matter what seed we are.”

Amherst and Marshall also enter the tournament with 25-1 records. Amherst was ranked third in the final Coaches Poll, while Marshall was ranked seventh. The fourth team in the Division 3 field is Milwaukee Saint Thomas More, which has more losses than the other three teams combined at 21-5, but also knocked off undefeated Laconia 53-40 in a sectional final on Saturday.

Wisconsin Dells assistant coach Travis Hartman said the underdog role suits this team just fine.

“Now we can tell the girls, ‘We’re disrespected again. We’re the No. 4 seed. No one thinks we are going to win,’” Hartman said. “Basically the whole year, we weren’t ranked, which is fine. We’ve taken that underdog role. We’ll stay with it. We’ll be the 4 seed.”

You can bet Wisconsin Dells head coach Bob Buss, who is in his fifth season as the program’s head coach, and picked up career victory No. 100 with the 46-29 win over Hayward in the sectional final on Saturday, will use his team’s seeding as motivation.

“I don’t want to say it’s a lack of respect, but our name wasn’t mentioned too much throughout the year, so I think it is a good thing,” Buss said. “All four teams are good. You’re going to have to beat a good team to win it all anyways.”

When the season began back in November, nobody really knew how good this year’s Wisconsin Dells team could be. The Chiefs returned all but one starter from last year’s squad, which went 21-4, but had its season end with a lopsided 67-46 loss to Platteville in the sectional semifinals.

Then in just the second game of the season, the Chiefs lost 66-41 to Reedsburg, and some began to wonder if this year’s team was going to get over the hump. The Chiefs haven’t lost since.

Wisconsin Dells senior Jenna Mace, who is one of three seniors on the Wisconsin Dells roster and is averaging 18.1 points per game, said this year’s team has gotten more comfortable with each other. Last year’s squad depended on more first-year varsity players, who are now in their second year contributing to the team.

“We know each other better. Last year was the first year we were all playing together,” Mace said. “We’re just a lot more comfortable and we know each other better, on and off the floor.”

Senior Jamie Bates, one of the players who has stepped up to help replace Tessa Nelson, the one starter who graduated from last year’s team, said the team is more mature this season.

“Last year we were the majority sophomores. This year they’re all juniors and a few seniors,” Bates said. “We’re just older, more experienced and more ready and knowledgeable about the game.”