There doesn’t seem to be much debate over which is the best girls basketball team in the Metro Classic Conference.
Racine Lutheran has already put up impressive numbers, including a school record 99 points against Lake Country Lutheran in a 99-68 nonconference victory on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
The Crusaders are led by University of Minnesota recruit Caroline Strande, who was the Racine County Player of the Year, a first-team Division 4 All-State selection by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association and a third-team Associated Press All-State selection. Three other returning starters help make Lutheran the favorite to defend, and possibly win outright, the MCC title it shared last year with Somers Shoreland Lutheran.
The other three Racine County schools in the MCC — Catholic Central, Prairie and St. Catherine’s — saw some graduation losses and could struggle.
The only coaching change is having former St. Catherine’s girls coach Jeff Tarkowski return to that post this season.
Here are capsule looks at the four county MCC teams:
Catholic Central Lady Toppers
HEAD COACH: Joe Spierenburg, third season.
LAST SEASON: 15-9 overall, 8-8 MCC, lost 36-34 to Sheboygan Lutheran in WIAA Division 5 regional semifinal
ROSTER (*-returning letterwinner): Seniors — *Mia Sassano, 5-4 guard; *Isabelle Phillips, 5-7 forward; *Abigail Sheehan, 5-5 guard. Sophomores — *Julia Klein, 5-8 guard; *Maddy von Rabenau, 5-4 guard; *Morgan Ramsey, 5-8 forward; Katie Walkington, 5-6 forward. Freshmen — Kayla Loos, 5-11 forward; Brooke Wright, 5-7 guard.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Four of last year’s starters graduated, but this year’s seniors are up for the challenge of being leaders, Spierenburg said. The sophomores got some playing time last year and have already helped the Lady Toppers start this season 2-0 and outscore their two opponents 127-17. The freshmen will also see game action.
“We will play tough defensively and give it our all,” Spierenburg said. “We will be undersized, but not outworked.”
Racine Lutheran Crusaders
HEAD COACH: Steve Shaffer, fifth season.
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LAST SEASON: 21-3 overall, 14-2 MCC, shared conference title with Shoreland Lutheran; lost 87-74 to Milwaukee Academy of Science in a WIAA Division 4 regional final.
ROSTER (*-returning letterwinner): Seniors — *Caroline Strande, 5-11 guard; *Abigail Guziewicz, 5-7 forward. Juniors — *Morgann Gardner, 6-1 forward; *Alexis Peterson, 5-8 forward; *Megan Lichter, 5-4 guard; *Mya Seitz, 5-2 guard; *Madison Mohar, 5-4 guard/forward. Sophomores — *Nevaiah Bell, 5-8 guard; *Bella Jaramillo, 5-6 guard. Freshmen — Ellie Jaramillo, guard; Sarah Strande, guard.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With a returning quartet of Caroline Strande (29.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4.8 steals per game), Gardner (18.0 points, 8.1 rebounds), Peterson (6.8 points, 3.3 rebounds) and Bell, an excellent defender, the Crusaders will be a serious contender for a WIAA state tournament berth. Beyond those four, the skill level of the rest of the team is close, Shaffer said.
“Whoever steps up from this group to provide the spark off the bench and join the top players will determine the style of play that we will have this season,” Shaffer said.
Prairie School Hawks
HEAD COACH: Alan Mills, fourth season
LAST SEASON: 18-7 overall, 11-5 in MCC, fourth place; lost 64-49 to Milwaukee Academy of Science in WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal.
ROSTER (*-returning letterwinner): Seniors — *Andrea Palmen, 5-7 guard; *Kate McPhee, 5-3 guard; *Mackenzie Wienke, 5-3 guard; *Emma Bryant, 5-3 guard; Kaja Baran, 5-9 forward; Ayanna Crenshaw, 5-7 forward; Diya Mehra, 5-4 guard. Juniors — *Abby Decker, 5-10 guard; Sonya Babu, 5-4 guard; Erin Kutsch, 5-5 guard. Sophomores — Jill Decker, 5-6 guard; Reya Babu, 5-8 forward.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Hawks took a hit in graduation, losing two standouts in guard Brooke Foster and center Jolie Larson. Abby Decker (10 points, four rebounds per game) and Palmen (eight points, five assists) will be the top guards and Mills is looking for Baran to fill the void at center. The Babu sisters, Wienke, Bryant, Kutsch, and Crenshaw will round out the main rotation.
“We have to find scoring, but our strength should be defense again,” Mills said. “While we won’t have the size we had last year, we should have a bit more team speed.”
St. Catherine’s Angels
HEAD COACH: Jeff Tarkowski, first season (replaces Keino Turner); Tarkowski previously coached the Angels from 1998 through 2008.
LAST SEASON: 4-19 overall, 2-14 MCC; lost 82-60 to Clinton in WIAA Division 3 regional quarterfinal.
ROSTER (*-returning letterwinner): Seniors — *Kate Cafferty, 5-9 forward; *Annemarie Letsch, 5-7 guard; *Emily Poisl, 5-3 guard; *Sophie Wentorf, 5-9 forward. Juniors — *Jaidah Blunt, 5-5 guard; Angeline Nehmer, 5-3 guard; Jessica Nehmer, 5-0 guard. Sophomores — *Heavenly Griffin, 5-2 guard; Tanyia Abdullah, 5-3 guard. Freshman — Kennedee Clark, 5-10 forward.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Graduation took a big toll on the Angels, who lost seven seniors, including five of their top six scorers. Tarkowski said this year’s seniors are settling into their roles as leaders and he is expecting the underclassmen to be a big part of the team’s success. Wentorf (6.1 points per game) is the top returning scorer and Clark has led the team in scoring in each of their two games.
“The whole team is very positive about learning a new system of basketball,” Tarkowski said. “We will come into every game prepared.”