It’s girls WIAA basketball tournament time, but the imprint made by a boys team is not being overlooked.
At least not in Janesville.
Janesville Craig coach Kerry Storbakken, in particular, has made special note of what just happened with the Cougar boys.
Craig High went to last week’s boys regional semifinals as a No. 8 seed with a 6-16 season record. Suddenly, the Cougars (8-16) are headed to this week’s sectional after a dynamic 80-69 victory over eighth-ranked Burlington, a top-seeded 20-game winner, in Saturday’s regional championship game.
“Our boys are a good lesson that there are no guarantees at tournament time,” Storbakken said. “You’ve got to come to play.”
As a result of their winning seasons, Janesville’s two girls teams don’t have to play in tonight’s Division 1 regional openers. Both have been seeded into the regional finals.
Craig (18-4), the Big Eight Conference runner-up and No. 2 seed in the Burlington Sectional, makes its tournament debut at home Saturday in a 1:30 p.m. game against seventh-seeded Mukwonago (5-17) or 10th-seeded Kenosha Bradford (2-19). The Cougars’ opponent for the regional championship game will be determined tonight at Mukwonago.
Meanwhile, Janesville Parker (15-7) joins Craig as part of the sectional’s lower bracket and also will be home Saturday for a regional title game. The Vikings face sixth-seeded Beloit Memorial (8-14) in a 1 p.m. rematch of Parker’s 67-51 win in last Friday’s conference finale.
If the Janesville teams win their tournament openers, they’ll meet at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 17, in the sectional semifinals at Burlington. But that’s getting ahead of the game on the ever-dangerous tournament trail, the coaches insist.
“That possibility is out there,” Storbakken said of the Janesville showdown. “But it’s the old cliché—we’ve got to take care of Saturday first.”
And for Parker, that means hooking up with a familiar foe—which can be good or bad in the postseason.
“We played pretty well in our last game,” Parker coach Tom Klawitterr said, “but now we’ve got to go back-to-back with Beloit. But maybe they have more issues than we do.”
There always are lot of issues at tournament time. For the Janesville teams, one could be in waiting a week between games until the postseason tipoff arrives.
“We wish we were playing on Tuesday (tonight),” Stobakken said, repeating a line often heard from Klawittter in previous years when his top-seeded teams received byes into the second round.
Craig and Parker are far from alone, however, in playing the waiting game this year under the WIAA’s new five-division format. In fact, along with Bradford at Mukwonago, the only other regional semifinal game tonight as part of the Burlington Sectional sends Kenosha Tremper (6-16) to Burlington (9-13) in the upper bracket.
Muskego (17-5), the sectional’s No. 1 seed, also receives a bye and hosts Burlington or Tremper on Saturday. The upper bracket’s other regional final sends fifth-seeded Lake Geneva Badger (12-10) to fourth-seeded Franklin (14-8).
After the Thursday, March 17, semifinals, the sectional winds down with a 1:30 p.m. championship game on Saturday, March, 19, at Burlington. But unlike all previous WIAA girls postseason history, that doesn’t send a team to the state tournament.
That new format allows only four Division 1 teams to qualify for state. That means the Burlington Sectional champion will play the Verona champion in a state-qualifying, super sectional game on Tuesday, March 22, at UW-Whitewater.
But while the revamped format calls for new experiences, there could be some familiar things along the way. If either Janesville team advances, it could get the opportunity to avenge two regular-season losses in a super-sectional matchup with top-ranked Big Eight champion Middleton
“That would be sweet—something really awesome,” Storbakken said. “But we’ve got to get past a lot of tough teams before that could happen.”
And it might just happen that Parker would get a rematch with old nemesis Verona in the super sectional after being denied trips to state by the Wildcats in the sectional finals the last three years.
Klawitter knows a couple of things for sure. Verona (16-6) would be a major threat for Middleton in a sectional on the Wildcats’ home floor. And there could be a lot of pressure on Middleton in a sectional field that also includes dangerous Madison East (13-8) and Madison La Follette (12-10).
“If anybody can beat Middleton, it would be Verona,” Klawitter said. “(Coach) Angie (Murphy) always finds a way to match up with them and keep it close.
“And there’s also a little pressure on them,” he said of the Cardinals. “They’ve been to the state tournament the last three years (winning only one game). Now they’re all seniors, and it’s their last chance.
“That’s going to play into it,” said Klawitter, whose teams have been to the state tournament 12 times. “I know that from experience.”
And what the Craig boys just experienced sends a resounding reminder that anything can happen at tournament time.