Big stages are made for teams with big aspirations with big players who are not afraid of the atmosphere.
In Germantown's one-day hoops extravaganza at the basketball jewel that is the Al McGuire Center on the Marquette campus Jan. 16, the Warhawk girls made a case for being a big-time team, as they held off a rugged Arrowhead squad by a 70-59 count in a game with large WIAA sectional implications.
They succeeded in earning that win against a team that has had their number in both regular-season and tourney play, despite starting forward and second-leading scorer Olivia Verdin going out with about 14 minutes left after she hit her head in picking up her fourth foul.
Coach Matt Stuve said she could have come back in, but everyone wanted to be careful.
Besides, the two-time North Shore Conference champions now have more incentive to be careful with their stars as the day before, they routed NSC opponent Port Washington, 66-32, and then happily noted that Cedarburg beat previously unbeaten Grafton decisively, to create in effect, a three-way tie for the league lead.
The twin wins improved Germantown to 11-3 overall and 6-1 in league, effectively tied with Grafton and Cecdarburg for the league lead.
'The second round of conference play is coming up so we'll look to keep improving,' said Stuve. 'It's (semester) exam week, which will be tough enough. The focus will be on academics this week and we'll work on fundamentals.'
The Warhawks will then visit Milwaukee Lutheran (0-7 in league play) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22.
Arrowhead is only 6-7 on the season, but if the WIAA graded its teams the same way the NCAA does, Arrowhead's strength of schedule would be off the charts, with losses to powerful Pius XI, Waukesha West, Mukwonago, and Pewaukee on the ledger.
'You can throw their record out the window,' said Stuve. 'I don't think you could find a better seven-loss team in the state.'
So the Warhawks and star guard Kenzie Schmitz took them very seriously.
Schmitz kept the Warhawks in the game during a shaky first half that saw them fall behind 13-7.
Then she scored the first eight points of a 10-0 Germantown run that made it 17-13 with 7:30 left.
The rest of the half went back and forth until Germantown closed it out with a 9-4 run that gave it a 28-25 advantage at the break.
Schmitz seemed to relish playing on the bigger McGuire court that allowed her to use her speed and overall athleticism to great advantage. She would finish the half with 14 points.
'This was a lot of fun,' she said. 'Every game like this gives us a chance to show some new things that we can do and it's always fun playing better teams in situations like this on different courts like this.'
Like at the start of the second half, when the Warhawks showed some offensive diversity and defensive tenacity to put Arrowhead away. They opened the session with a pair of deft plays that overloaded one side of the court and then swung the ball back to a wide open 3-point shooter.
In both instances, guards Calli Lemke and Sarah Richmond drained their shots to make it 34-25. Verdin then made a shot along the baseline to make it 36-25 with 15:02 left and Germantown was in control from there on out. Verdin left the game shortly thereafter but the Warhawks continued to surge, as the lead reached 58-37 with 6:17 left.
A late push by Arrowhead got the lead down to seven twice, but Germantown would make 17-of-26 free throws in the second half.
Schmitz would finish with 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as guard Taylor Weitermann came up with 13 and forward Piper Brown, who had a strong second half, would contribute 12 points and six rebounds. Verdin had seven points and seven rebounds in her limited effort. Bingenheimer also had four assists and Lemke three steals.
Stuve was pleased with the way the Warhawks started the second half.
'We worked hard to eliminate their (good) looks and then we looked to cash in on the other end,' he said. 'We worked with two zones, one of which was a little more aggressive than the other and, when we executed our defense better, that led to better offense.'
The Warhawks also did a good job controlling the boards and forcing turnovers.
'We just did a good job, we were more decisive today,' Stuve said.
Germantown took a 41-17 lead at the half against Port and then cruised home from there as Schmitz had 23 points, 13 rebounds and four steals while Verdin had 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Guard Megan Ische had 11 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots.