Nobody knows what would have happened had the Black Hawk girls basketball team been able to finish last season at full strength.
And you can be sure coach Michael Flanagan spent some time during the offseason pondering the possibilities.
Black Hawk finished last year’s regular season with a 20-0 record and was favored to advance to the WIAA state tournament for the first time since its three consecutive trips from 2009 to 2011.
But the Warriors’ state dreams came to an end when they suffered their only loss of the season in a regional final to Fall River.
The loss came one night after Black Hawk’s leading scorer, Natalie Leuzinger, injured her hip and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Black Hawk battled gamely against Fall River, but couldn’t overcome the loss of their then-freshman star, leaving players and coaches wondering what might have been.
“Obviously there’s no way to validate the point, but had Natalie not gone down, we’d have had a really good chance of maybe making the trip to the Resch Center last year,” Flanagan said. “But that’s part of sports. It’s just the reality.”
There’s also another saying in sports: “There’s always next year.” And it looks like next year has arrived for Black Hawk, a school of about 115 students located in South Wayne (about 55 miles from Madison).
The Warriors used the sad finish to last season as motivation to finish the job this time around. Black Hawk surged to the top of The Associated Press Division 5 poll and stayed there, and will take a 27-0 record into Friday’s 9:05 a.m. state semifinal against Wausau Newman (21-6) at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
The top-seeded Warriors have outscored opponents by an average of 40 points per game.
“After last year, we knew what we were capable of, and we knew what our freshman class would look like,” senior captain and four-year starter Hannah Herbst said. “Right from the beginning, coach Flan said, ‘I’m not afraid to talk about it.’
“We’re confident, we’ve put in the hard work, and been in the weight room. We came into the season saying we want a state championship.”
Leuzinger is a 5-7 sophomore wing who leads the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game. She’s followed in scoring by the Butler sisters, freshman Bailey (15.7 ppg) and sophomore Hannah (11.8 ppg). Herbst, one of only three seniors, does a little of everything for the Warriors and ranks second behind Bailey Butler in assists.
“It’s been a lot of fun with the underclassmen,” Herbst said. “I love them all and give them a lot of credit. They listen and take pointers. And Bailey, she’s always looking to improve her game and ask questions.”
Leuzinger knew special things were in the future when the current freshmen and sophomores played together in middle school.
“We knew we were pretty good in our younger years,” she said. “We have great chemistry and know each other so well and have a bond that no one can break.”