ASHWAUBENON – Even with a young roster, the Marshall girls basketball team started the season confident about what the Cardinals might accomplish.
But they didn’t spend time thinking each day about winning the WIAA Division 3 state title, which Marshall did with a 63-55 victory over Amherst Saturday at the Resch Center.
It was Marshall’s third championship in three state trips. The Cardinals won Class C titles in 1976 and 1977.
“You can really see the excitement of everyone in the community and all the players,” freshman guard Mia Morel said. “Everyone literally was in tears. You could feel all the passion everyone has for basketball.”
First-year coach Alex Koeller said the team set goals of winning the Capitol South Conference, then winning the regional title, then the sectional title and finally the state championship.
But he said the Cardinals weren’t focused during the season on the state title. He said the group just tried focusing on the next game and preparing each day to get better.
“You never want to get too far ahead of yourself,” said Koeller, a 2009 Marshall graduate who had been an assistant on DeForest girls basketball coach Jerry Schwenn’s staff. “That’s something I preached to the girls each and every day. We took each day one day at a time. Our motto was 'One team, one goal.’ We wanted to go 1-0 each and every day. … I think that was huge for how young we were -- to focus on one game at a time.”
The Cardinals started three freshmen – Morel and forwards Anna Lutz and Laurel Nickel -- and had four freshmen (including guard Mya Andrews) in the top seven players of the playing rotation.
Morel had 21 points, five assists, nine rebounds and two steals against Amherst. She wound up with 11 steals in Marshall’s two games at state. Her nine steals against Wisconsin Dells set a Division 3 single-game record and the 11 steals tied the Division 3 tournament record total. On Monday, she was named to the first team of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 3 all-state team.
“I feel like as each game went on, we started growing together and we became like a family,” Morel said. “Now we play super good together. No one is selfish.”
Lutz had 16 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals against Amherst. Nickel totaled 10 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Samira Arvin had seven points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, while senior forward Reonna Huettner added six points and five rebounds and junior guard Ceraya Morel sank a 3-point shot.
Lutz said as an eight-grader she and her classmates thought Marshall would be good when they were playing high school basketball. But she said the varsity coaches and upperclassmen made sure the younger players stayed composed and impressed upon the freshmen that “we have to keep our head held high, but we couldn’t let it get too big and we always focused on the next game.”
Bringing home the title to Marshall meant a lot.
“For the community, it’s huge,” Koeller said. “It’s been a long time coming for us – 40-some years until we got the gold ball again. So, for the community, it’s big. For me, as an individual, this is something I was chasing when I was in high school. I didn’t get an opportunity to get here. It’s always been a goal of mine, too, to raise the gold ball. I’m glad I was able to do it with these 15 girls this year. It’s a special group. I couldn’t be prouder. I’m just so proud of each and every one of them.”
Said Lutz: “I feel the state tournament brought the community together and showed how well we all supported each other in our athletics.”
The 27-year-old Koeller laughed when he was asked where he goes from here after winning a state title in his first season as a varsity coach.
“That’s a great question,” Koeller said. “This is a dream come true for us, for me, and our coaching staff. I told the girls in the locker room now we can be satisfied being able to hoist that gold ball.”
Koeller planned to celebrate winning the title, then in May is scheduled to marry Marshall girls basketball assistant coach Dani Templin.
“From there, we start summer stuff and we’ll start all over, and it’s a whole new year and a whole new process,” Koeller said.
Here are attendance figures at the girls basketball tournament, WIAA communications director Todd Clark said.
Thursday, first session (Division 3) – 3,976; Thursday, second session (Division 4) – 5,068.
Friday, first session (Division 5) – 4,004; Friday, second session (Division 2) – 6,184; Friday, third session (Division 1) – 4,748.
Saturday, first session (Division 5, 4 and 3 title games) – 7,569. 2017 – 6,692.
Saturday, second session (Division 2 and 1 title games) – 5,507. 2017 – 7,127.
Total attendance – 37,033.
2017 – 39,943.