Lena advances to state title game

Albany/Monticello awaits after Wildcats’ victory over Clear Lake
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

The Lena Wildcats, in the school’s fourth trip to the state girls basketball tournament, are one win away from their second state title.

After a workman-like 53-48 victory over Clear Lake on March 8, the Wildcats (28-2) are scheduled to play Albany/Monticello in the WIAA Division 5 state championship game at 11:05 a.m. March 9 at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.

“Every coach in America should get an opportunity to have a chance to coach a team like this,” said Lena head coach Tim Goldschmidt, who was a junior at Lena High School the first time the school won a state girls basketball championship in 1980. “They’re so thoughtful, so unselfish. There’s no one player that says they’re going to win the game by themselves. They believe in their teammates and get the ball to their teammates and encourage their teammates to make the play they need when it’s needed to win games. They’re a super group.”

Goldschmidt was flanked at the postgame news conference by the team’s season scoring leaders — Eva Brooks, who scored 23 points and ripped down 14 rebounds, and Madi Thomson, who contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds to the cause.

“I didn’t envision it at all or expect it, but I’m happy we got here,” Brooks said when asked if she saw a trip to the state title game at the beginning of the season. “It takes a lot of hard work. I’m just happy to think that our dreams could come true, coming here.”

Thomson said she had a feeling they could make it to state.

“We just had to put in the time and have the teamwork in the first place,” she said. “But I had a good feeling that if we played together, this could happen.”

Lena scored the first five points of the game on Thomson’s driving layup and a Brooks three-pointer, but the Warriors (26-4) scored the next seven to take a 7-5 lead. The two teams battled back and forth with five ties and five lead changes in the first half.

The Wildcats took the lead late in the half when senior Alabama Lambert sank a three-point shot to go up 23-20, and they caught a break when Brooks put in a second-chance layup at the buzzer for a 25-20 halftime lead.

Much to the chagrin of the Warriors faithful, the TV replay showed that the ball left Brooks’ hand after the buzzer sounded, but under tournament rules, replay is only used to determine if a field-goal attempt beat the clock at the end of regulation or an overtime period.

Lena netted five three-point goals in all during the first half, including two in a row by senior Whitney Potter that helped turn a 16-14 deficit into a 20-18 advantage.

“A lot of opponents don’t realize we have good three-point shooters,” Goldschmidt said, “and they know they need to step up on nights when our bigs down low are going to get double- and triple-teamed. … It’s a big part of our offense. We don’t use it a whole lot during the year because normally we don’t have to, but in big games it’s there when needed.”

Clear Lake tied the game one last time at 29 with 13:30 left in the game on a three-point shot from leading scorer Nora Eggert, who ended with 12 points including three of six from beyond the arc. Thomson countered with a three-pointer of her own less than a minute later, and the Wildcats began to take control in the closing minutes, eventually opening up their biggest lead of the game at 47-38 with 3:17 to go.

Saturday’s opponent, the Albany/Monticello Comets (26-3), were the second-place team in the Six Rivers East Conference and reached the title game by defeating conference champion Argyle/Pecatonica (26-2), avenging two regular-season losses at the hands of the Cardinals.

The Comets are competing in the state Final Four for the second year in a row after bowing out in the semifinals to eventual champion McDonnell Central Catholic in 2023.