Germantown girls basketball coach Matt Stuve said his team has a different energy level when senior forward Olivia Verdin is in the game.
Verdin has been limited for about a month because of an ankle injury, but her energy was greatly apparent in the Warhawks' 61-45 North Shore Conference victory over a tenacious host Whitefish Bay team Wednesday night.
The Warhawks (5-0 in league play and 10-1 overall) had struggled to take a 21-17 lead in the first half against the Blue Dukes (3-2, 7-4) but surged to take a 36-24 advantage at the 13:50 mark of the second half.
But Bay, behind sophomore forward Ellie Clements (17 points), went on a 9-0 run to cut the gap to 36-33 with 9:42 to go. Warhawk senior all-state guard Kenzie Schmitz cashed in on a three-point play and then hit freshman guard Kate Richmond for another key bucket.
Verdin then helped Germantown keep the momentum by blocking a shot, hustling down the floor and hitting a layup off a nice pass from freshman guard Natalie McNeal. It was 43-33 Germantown at the 8:05 mark. Verdin would later get a layup, and then junior guard Megan Ische knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:42 left and the Warhawks were home free at 49-35 with 5:42 left.
Verdin, who would finish with six points and a ton of hustle plays, was happy to be back contributing on a big-time basis. She played a few minutes here or there in the Warhawks' 2-1 effort in the Rathke Tournament in Franklin last week but was back in the starting lineup against Bay.
"The ankle feels a lot better, thank you," she said with a laugh. "This was a good night. It definitely felt like I was back and really contributing to the team again."
"She got through two days of practice (Monday and Tuesday), but she's not quite all the way back," he said, "but having Olivia at about 75 percent is still a really good option for us. We just have a higher level of energy with her out on the floor."
And they'll need her this coming weekend, when the Warhawks face a most difficult schedule. The three-time North Shore champions host Cedarburg (3-0, 7-3) in a 7:30 p.m. battle for first place Friday, Jan. 6, and then will turn around and face top-ranked Arrowhead in a 4:45 p.m. showcase game Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Al McGuire Center on the Marquette University campus in Milwaukee.
"It was good that we came on strong and finished this game well," Stuve said. "We need to maintain that momentum."
For Bay coach Jon Schneider, it was a bit of a disappointing finish. The Blue Dukes held Germantown scoreless for close to seven minutes to start the game in taking a 6-0 lead and still held a 17-12 advantage with 6:22 left in the half, but the Blue Dukes went scoreless the rest of the half, and Germantown surged ahead on three buckets in the last 1:18, including two hoops from McNeal and another from Anna Averkamp.
They would never trail again.
"They hit some really big shots," Schneider said. "They hit four 3-pointers in that first half to keep themselves in the game. They just have a lot of shooters, and when they hit shots like that, it extended our defense, and then they they were able to exploit the help side.
"Even at the end, they were still doing it. We needed to get a couple of stops, and they hit some tough mid-range jumpers, pull-up shots that you're willing to give up. They're just tough to defend."
McNeal led the Warhawks with 19 points, while Schmitz had 14 and Megan Ische 12. Clements led Bay with 17, and Bailey Faulkner and Ali Menard added 8 apiece.
"I was really pleased with our effort," Schneider said, "but they hit layups, jumpers and 3-pointers.They're just really good."
Verdin agreed and said the three freshmen (McNeal, Richmond and Amber Ische) have really made an impact on the team.
"We're facing good competition, but I thought we still had the ability to go far," she said. "The young girls have really stepped up and worked hard."
Her coach was happy to have this one out of the way.
"This is never an easy place to get a win," Stuve said. "They always play tough here. It was good that we were able to rally and stay on top (in the league)."