WATERTOWN — The heat was on, and unfortunately for the Waupun prep girls basketball team, the Warriors didn’t have anything to shade it away.
Laconia’s full-court pressure flustered Waupun into 21 turnovers, with most of them coming over the final 15-plus minutes as the second-seeded Warriors saw a seven-point advantage fritter away and ultimately turn into a 52-40 loss to the top-seeded Spartans Thursday night in a WIAA Division 3 sectional semifinal at Watertown High School.
Laconia hounded the Warriors with a 1-2-2 press, which all too often denied Waupun (15-10) a chance to set up its halfcourt offense.
“We kind of lost ourselves a little bit throughout it — lost our press break principles — and that certainly turned the tide in the game,” Waupun head coach Tim Aalsma said. “Once we got past their pressure, we really got any of the shots that we wanted within the framework of our offense. But it was just getting past that wave of pressure (that was a problem).
“Once we built that lead, they hit a shot, they put the pressure on, and from that point on we had a hard time settling down.”
A bit earlier, though, it was the Spartans (25-0) — the No. 1 team in the state in the Associated Press poll and the No. 2 team in the WisSports.net coaches poll — who were on their heels after Warriors forward Elyse Stelsel went on a personal 7-2 scoring run to turn a 19-17 halftime lead into a 26-19 advantage.
“She worked hard off the ball,” Aalsma said. “We work on that in practice a lot — they were playing a zone, and we kind of carved it up with good looks from big to little with (6-foot-2 senior) Syd (Flier) going inside and finding Elyse on the back end. She worked hard off the ball off the ball, and we made a point to get it to her.”
But then Alexys Smit hit a 3-pointer to make it 26-22 with 15 minutes, 20 seconds remaining — and Laconia’s pressure ratcheted up from there, leading to several points either in transition or with the Warriors sucking wind from having to expend so much energy in their halfcourt defense without a chance to catch their breath.
“That’s why turnovers are so crucial,” Aalsma said. “We talked about that it in the last couple ballgames, where we’ve taken care of the ball — we’ve managed possessions — and tonight we didn’t do that.
“We got a little discombobulated just trying to find our man — we had a hard time matching up, and we left shooters wide open.”
The frenzied pace inflicted by Laconia produced a 19-4 run for the Spartans, giving them their first lead of the night at 27-26 with 13:52 to go and ending with them in front 38-30 with 7:37 remaining.
Flier stopped the bleeding for a moment with a bucket inside with 6:20 left that made it 38-32, and then moments later Meghan Flier hit a runner that kept the deficit at six with the Spartans leading 40-34 with 5:01 to go.
But it unraveled from there and the closest the Warriors got the rest of the way was within nine when Peyton McGinnis made a 3 with 1:47 left to make it 47-38.
Like that, the careers of seniors Syd Flier — an NCAA Division II Winona State recruit — Stelsel, Meghan Flier and Erin Schmitt came to a close.
And they’ll move on having helped author one of the best stretches in Waupun girls basketball history, with three straight trips to the sectionals finals before this year’s trip to the semifinals.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Aalsma, who’s in his first year at the helm. “I’m proud of the kids. They had to adjust to me and the new system we brought in, and they embraced it.
“I wish the outcome could have been different. I really felt like we could get by these guys and then who knows after that. But this is where it ends.
“It’s tough; the locker room will be a sad place. But they don’t have anything to hang their hats over.”
LACONIA 52, WAUPUN 40
Waupun 19 21 — 40
Laconia 17 35 — 52
WAUPUN (40) — Elyse Stelsel 9, Meghan Flier 7, Claire Harder 1, Peyton McGinnis 7, Syd Flier 16. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 15 7-12 40.
LACONIA (52) — Kiarra Otto 19, Alexys Smit 9, Alissa Dins 12, Haley Rens 6, Maci Grade 6. TOTALS (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 16 14-27 52.
3-pointers: Waupun 3 (Meghan Flier 1, Peyton McGinnis 1, Syd Flier 1), Laconia 6 (Kiarra Otto 1, Alexys Smit 1, Alissa Dins 3, Haley Rens 1). Total fouls: Waupun 22, Laconia 15. Fouled out: Stelsel, M.Flier.