Oak Creek hopes to rebound from tough start
Whitnall, Greendale face uncertainty in 2010-11
Good basketball programs often load up their nonconference schedule to prepare for the weekly grind of the conference season.
The Oak Creek girls are no different, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more brutal stretch of games than the Knights' first three.
Oak Creek opened the 2010-11 campaign with back-to-back contests against Nicolet and Milwaukee Vincent in the NY2LA Sports Classic. They'll host 2010 state quarterfinalist and defending league co-champion Racine Case in both teams' Southeast Conference opener at 7:15 p.m. Dec. 10.
"We play three of the top four teams in the state," said second-year Oak Creek coach Steve Hluchnik, whose team went 18-8 a year ago. "That's not an easy way to start."
The Knights lost their first two contests, 52-40, to Nicolet on Friday and to Vincent, 54-45, on Saturday. Hluchnik said his team's lack of a varsity-ready point guard in the wake of Angela Rodriguez's graduation was evident in the losses.
Rodriguez, a four-year varsity player, is now playing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"They're monster shoes (to fill), not only because she was our point guard, but because she was our leader and she ran the whole show for us," Hluchnik said. "That's what we're missing right now. … We just need to learn to take care of the basketball. For a team as experienced as we are, we had way too many mental mistakes last weekend. That goes back to someone stepping into Rodriguez's shoes and being a leader for us."
Rodriguez was the only senior on last year's team that advanced to the sectional final before losing to eventual state champion Pius XI. Senior forward Ashley Luke, a University of Illinois at Chicago recruit, is back after making the 2009-10 NOW All-Suburban Team as the only girl in the NOW coverage area to average a double-double (13.5 points, 10 rebounds).
But Luke isn't the only talented post player on the Knights' roster. Junior center Rebecca Running started last winter, junior forward Maggie Wilke played a lot of minutes as a sophomore and 6-0 freshman Tamya Sims might be the most athletic player on the team, according to her coach.
"We've got four posts and those two kids that come off the bench (Wilke and Sims) could start for any team," Hluchnik said. "We have a lot of good posts and we have to get the ball inside. Nicolet and Vincent ball-pressured the heck out of us and we didn't get the ball inside like we needed to."
Senior guard Cydney Weisflog returns, and though she is better suited to play at shooting guard, she will run the point until sophomore Morgan Kokta is ready to do so.
Senior Tessa Leonardi and junior Abby Styczynski will also be in the starting rotation.
Franklin will look to rebound from an uncharacteristically mediocre season by jumping on the shoulders of 5-foot-8-inch guard Taylor Atkinson.
Atkinson was a first-team all-SEC choice and a member of the NOW All-Suburban Team with averages of 12.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 steals. She tied a school record with 34 points in a game and set school marks for most free throws (18) and steals (13) in a game. She recently signed her national letter of intent with Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn.
"She is the type of play-making guard we were looking for," Concordia coach Paul Fessler said in a statement on the team's website. "She can play all three guard positions, which is a huge benefit with only one point guard on next year's roster. She is an athletic guard that is extremely competitive. She is able to create and find the open person as well as finish her own shot."
Despite Atkinson's solid effort, Franklin went just 14-10 a year ago. But only three seniors are gone off that team so experience should not be an issue.
In a season-opening 53-44 win over Mukwonago in the NY2LA Sports Classic on Saturday in Oak Creek, Atkinson scored 16 points and senior guard/forward Mariah Hill, who averaged 10.2 points per game a year ago, chipped in 14.
Scoring punch could be a concern for the Falcons in 2010-11.
They lost most of their top producers from last year's squad, which went 6-15 overall and 6-11 in the Woodland Conference.
Kalina Al-Mohareb, a 5-8 senior forward, is back after playing in only six games last season due to a hip injury. She averaged seven points in those games.
Also returning are sophomore post Katherine Crivello, who averaged five points and six rebounds, and 5-7 sophomore forward Rachael Shulta. Other key players include 5-5 senior point guard Alyssa Moffatt and senior guard Sara Mogenson.
The Falcons split two games in the Kemp's Klassic Tournament at Brookfield East last weekend, topping East, 49-34, and losing to Catholic Memorial, 38-33, in the final. Al-Mohareb tallied 14 points against the Spartans, while Shulta added 12 and Crivello eight. Al-Mohareb scored nine to lead the Falcons against Memorial.
"This group has a good work ethic and good team chemistry, but is a work in progress," Whitnall coach Keith Larson said. "We just want to get better with each game."
The Panthers will be in a bit of rebuilding mode under coach Andrew Schroeder after losing its top three scorers to graduation from a team that went 15-8 last winter and lost in overtime to Brookfield Central in a regional final.
The biggest loss is Mary Merg, who finished her career with nearly 900 points. In her senior campaign, she averaged 16 points - third in the NOW area - and 6.4 rebounds. She was a first-team all-Woodland Conference selection and a NOW All-Suburban pick. She's currently on the UW-Whitewater women's basketball roster.
Senior guard Brooke Robinette, who averaged 5.3 points in 23 games as a junior, is the highest returning scorer for the Panthers.
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