No one said being the top seed was going to be easy.
The 22-2 Germantown girls basketball team, ranked third in the state, found that out the hard way on Feb. 25, when they needed a career-high 35 points from all-state guard Kenzie Schmitz and a little bit of luck to survive stubborn ninth-seeded Kimberly, 73-70, in a WIAA Division 1 regional final on the Warhawks' home court.
"They were good," said a relieved Warhawks' coach Matt Stuve. "There are no easy ones here; not now."
Germantown routed Manitiwoc, 75-47, in the regional semifinal on Feb. 24.
From here on out, things will only get tougher for the Warhawks. This was the second regional title in a row for the Warhawks and takes them back to Brown Deer at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2, for a sectional semifinal with 18-6 Greater Metro Conference champion Sussex Hamilton.
Germantown beat the Chargers, 73-69, back on Dec. 6. Hamilton flailed a bit down the stretch with three losses in its final four regular season games, but rallied to beat Menomonee Falls and then upset fourth-seeded Bay Port in the regional final. Guard Macy Williams is the primary offensive threat for the Chargers and she had 15 points in the one-point victory over Bay Port.
The winner of that game will face the winner of second-seeded and fourth-ranked De Pere (22-2) and Sheboygan North (18-6) in a WIAA sectional final at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at Whitefish Bay.
Last season, the Warhawks lost in the sectional semifinal at Brown Deer to Arrowhead.
"There's nothing that's a given right now," said Stuve.
But he's happy that he has the 5-foot-11 Schmitz, the school's all-time leading scorer, on his side.
"She's on a different level of focus right now," he said. "This is something (state) that she wants to make happen. She's got a good supporting cast and we'll be ready. We're just happy to be involved; happy to play anybody at this point."
They were not really thrilled playing Kimberly (14-10), which edged Kettle Moraine in a low-scoring, two-point decision in the regional semifinal the night before. The Papermakers lined up a guard-sized quintet and started launching 3-pointers, hitting nine of them, including five in a row at one point in the first half.
At one point, Kimberly was up 17-8 in the first half. Germantown counter-surged and eventually got the lead back at 41-35 at the half.
"We really had trouble stopping the drive," said Stuve.
Kimberly went up four with about 9:28 left before the Warhawks went on an 8-0 run that put them up for good, but it was never comfortable.
Germantown hit 5-of-8 free throws in the final minute, including 3-of-4 by freshman Kate Richmond. The Papermakers had one last look at a tie but it was a half-court heave well off the mark.
Schmitz towered above everyone this game, hitting 12-of-14 shots and 8-of-10 free throws. She only missed two 3-pointers for the game. She grabbed nine rebounds, had six assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Richmond added 13 points, included three big 3-point hits while fellow frosh Natalie McNeal had 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Senior forward Olivia Verdin added eight points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
"It was a fun game," said Stuve. "A lot of people told me afterward it was a great game to watch. I thought so, too, as long as we won. These were just two good, athletic teams getting up and down the court. I thought we handled it pretty well considering the circumstances."
He said Richmond's contributions were "huge" and noted that Schmitz is going to carry the team on her back to state if she has to.
"She's not going down without a fight," he said.
It was a much easier game against Manitowoc as the Warhawks took a 42-17 lead at half and then coasted home.
Ten different players scored as McNeal had 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists; while Richmond had 11 points, six rebounds and three assists; Schmitz 10 points, six rebounds and three assists; Verdin 10 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots; and Taylor Weitermann eight points and three steals.
Ellie Decker also had eight rebounds and Amber Ische three assists and four steals.