Good starts don't usually guarantee victory for athletic teams, but they help.
Bad starts, however, can make it awfully difficult to come out on top.
Seeking its first WIAA state tournament berth, the the third-ranked Germantown girls basketball team found that out the hard way in the sectional final against fourth-ranked De Pere at Whitefish Bay on Saturday, March 4.
The Warhawks missed 13 of their first 14 shots, had a series of ill-timed turnovers, fell behind 16-1 barely six minutes in and just could not recover.
They got to within six a couple of times, but it wasn't enough, as the Redbirds ended Germantown's program best season with a 67-59 decision.
"We've been on a significant run offensively, especially at the start of games," said Germantown coach Matt Stuve, "but the start of this game was not what we wanted and they took advantage of the opportunity. We fought back, we dug deep, but it just wasn't enough at the end."
The loss ended the Warhawks' season at 23-3 while De Pere improved to 24-2 and advanced to a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal game on Friday, March 10, at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
"We had confidence, we had energy, we had excitement, but it just wasn't our day," said all-state guard Kenzie Schmitz, who finished her Germantown career as the program's all-time leading scorer and had 23 points this day.
De Pere did take advantage of Germantown's early woes, as the Redbirds hit six of their first 10 shots, including three 3-pointers. A final 3 at the 12:01 mark by sophomore guard Rachel Kerkhoff made it 16-1.
Only at the 11:49 mark when Schmitz hit a 3 of her own did the Warhawks finally have their first field goal. It didn't help that freshman guard Natalie McNeal, Germantown's second-leading scorer, picked up three fouls in the first half and could never get untracked due to the Redbirds' hard-switching defense.
The DePere lead reached 25-8 at the 5:04 mark, but back-to-back treys from McNeal and senior guard Taylor Weitermann gave Germantown some life. A 3-pointer near the first half buzzer by junior guard Ellie Decker got Germantown to within 31-23 and gave Stuve some encouragement.
That encouragement continued at the start of the second session. Germantown hit three of its first four shots, as a trey by Schmitz cut the deficit to 37-31 with 15:39 left. It looked like the Warhawks were starting a surge, but they could not stop the Redbirds, who used crisp passing and an artful spread attack to get open shot after open shot.
They would hit six of their first nine attempts of the second half and soon had the advantage back up to 46-34 with 11:38 to go.
"We got that boost from Ellie's (Decker) 3 right before the half, but every time we had a chance to take it up a notch, they would hit a shot or make their free throws," Stuve said, "and our free throws were not where they should have been in the second half."
Germantown would hit only four of 12 charity tosses in the second half while De Pere hit 15 of 25. Senior forward Olivia Verdin had a forceful second half, scoring 13 of her 15 points for Germantown ("She really tried to will us in that second half," Stuve said).
The Warhawks drew to within six with 32 seconds left on a McNeal steal and hoop, but the Redbirds went 6-of-6 from the line in the final 42 seconds to clinch the victory.
Schmitz scored the last 7 points of her magnificent career in the final 43 seconds, but it wasn't enough.
Verdin and Schmitz exchanged a tearful hug at the end of the game, as they finished a grand period in Germantown girls hoops together,.
Stuve just wishes it could have gone on a week longer.
"That was just a very good team we played," he said. "An athletic team that could shoot and move the ball well. That starting five of theirs was as complete and balanced as we've seen all year.
"We're pretty darn proud of what we accomplished here, and it was our first sectional final. We needed to have a good day to beat them, but it just didn't happen."