Kenzie Schmitz appears to have more help than ever before.
Anything and everything seems possible for Germantown’s girls basketball team.
The Warhawks — led by Schmitz, an all-state senior guard and a Miami (Ohio) recruit — have arguably their deepest and most gifted team in years. And that group was never better than it was on Jan. 7.
At the “Al” Classic Basketball Invitational held at the Al McGuire Center, Germantown put on a clinic and routed former top-ranked in state Arrowhead, 75-55. Germantown, which has never reached the state tournament, won its fifth straight game and improved to 12-1.
It was part of an extremely impressive four-day stretch last week in which the Warhawks won three games including difficult victories over good Whitefish Bay and Cedarburg squads (see Northwest Now.com for stories on both games).
It was all capped off by the effort against Arrowhead.
Germantown standout freshman guard Natalie McNeal had a career-high 26 points, and the ultra-gifted Schmitz added 15 points and 10 rebounds in the game. Junior guard Megan Ische had 11 points, and senior post Olivia Verdin added 9 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s just really, really exciting,” McNeal said. “We all thought we could win the game, but I never imagined it would be by this much.”
Arrowhead, which began the week ranked No. 1 in the state, fell to 11-2 and suffered its worst loss since the 2013 state semifinals. Arrowhead junior center Caitlyn Harper had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while senior guard Liz Erdmann added 13 points.
Germantown shot 45.6 percent from the field (31-of-68), and afterwards, Arrowhead coach Rick Witte called his team’s defensive performance “pathetic.”
“We always defend with pride here,” Witte said. “But our defense was terrible the entire way.”
Arrowhead has knocked Germantown out of the postseason each of the last three years. But Germantown showed 2017 could be different — and McNeal might be the biggest reason why.
Germantown head coach Matt Stuve called McNeal the most talented offensive player the program has ever had. That’s lofty praise considering the lengthy list of standouts that have walked the halls at GHS.
But McNeal showed that praise might not be hyperbole, making 11 of 17 shots from the field (64.7 percent) in what could be remembered as her coming out party.
“When we had open gyms in the fall, (McNeal) was always the first player picked,” Stuve said. “The returning kids all knew she was going to be special.”
That was evident from the start, as McNeal had 4 points in an early 8-0 run that gave Germantown a 10-2 lead. Amazingly, mighty Arrowhead would never come closer than 6 points the rest of the night.
Germantown held a 24-15 lead midway through the first half, when McNeal spearheaded a 13-1 run that gave it a commanding 37-16 lead.
In a 90-second window, McNeal knocked down a 3-pointer and then drove for consecutive layups as Germantown’s lead ballooned to 31-16. Ische stepped up and drilled 3-pointers on consecutive possessions as Germantown’s advantage reached 21.
Germantown’s lead was 43-23 at halftime, and it excelled on both ends of the floor.
Germantown was extremely efficient offensively, shooting 17-of-40 from the field and knocking down all six of its free throws. Germantown also held Arrowhead to 9-of-38 shooting (23.7 percent) and 1-of-9 from distance.
“We knew if we played well and worked together we could win,” McNeal said. “And the way we played really gives us a lot of confidence.”
Germantown never let up in the second half, and its lead grew to as many as 26 at one point. Arrowhead made a mini-run midway through the half and pulled to within 16, but McNeal had 5 points in a 9-0 blitz that put Germantown back ahead, 72-47.
“We’ve beat some good teams but nothing quite as emphatic as this,” Stuve said. “If the girls didn’t believe before, they should be confident now.”
On the other side, Arrowhead, which opened the year 10-0, was looking for answers.
“Winning is nice, but we get caught up too much in that stuff,” Witte said. “And sometimes losing can be the best thing for you if your team can find a way to respond.
“Winning can be an impostor that is not a friend of ours. So we’re finding out that, hey, maybe we have some things we have to go back and work on. And if we can’t figure them out, the season isn’t going to be as long as we’d like.”