Judy, in her ninth season as head coach of the Whitewater High girls team, is enjoying one of her best years on the bench.
Senior Leah Harms, Judy’s daughter, is one of the team’s top players.
Kelsey, Leah’s sister, is a sophomore who is the first guard off the bench.
Gary, Judy’s husband, is employed by UW-Whitewater. But he has spent several years coaching youth basketball teams, including one with his two girls and several other Whippets.
And then there’s Brett, the family’s youngest child and a sixth-grader, who also plays on basketball traveling teams.
“It’s in our blood,” said Judy, whose home has become the de facto headquarters for not only her basketball-playing family, but also for a large number of Whippet players.
“It usually never stops,” Leah said of her family’s obsession with basketball. “We watch game tapes at home. Kelsey and I will talk about basketball at school. On weekends, we go to UW-Whitewater games whenever we can. It just never stops.”
This year’s Whippet team also happens to be enjoying a season worth talking about.
The Whippets, who came within four points of forcing fifth-ranked Delavan-Darien to share the Southern Lakes title, open WIAA Division 2 regional play Thursday night against East Troy or Whitnall. Whitewater takes a 16-4 record into the postseason.
And despite that heartbreaking home loss to Delavan-Darien in the regular-season finale that kept Whitewater from a piece of its first conference title since 1984, the Whippets are in a much better emotional state entering tournament play than they were a year ago.
The 2006-07 team started the season 11-0, but lost eight of its last 10 as the Whippets discovered they weren’t up to the level of Jefferson, Milton and Elkhorn.
“We ran into a tough part of our schedule,” Judy said. “But our seniors are on a mission this year.”
That mission includes being able to handle adversity.
“Last year’s team, after we started losing, didn’t have that ‘want’ to come back and win,” Leah said. “This year is different.”
It starts with the four senior starters—Megan Theune, Leah Harms, Chelsea Heil and Sara Levine.
“Three of those girls have been playing youth basketball together since the fourth grade,” Judy Harms said. “Chelsea became part of the core when she moved here during middle school. Gary has helped me a lot with the kids during the offseason. Playing youth basketball has been a big key to the success of this team.”
Theune, one of the top all-around female athletes in the Southern Lakes, leads the team with a 14.3 scoring average. Leah Harms averages 11.8 points, nearly five rebounds and more than four steals a game. Heil averages 7.7 points.
Of course, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Judy is in the Catch-22 role of coaching her daughters.
“It was hard the first year,” Judy said. “But because all of these players and their families have grown up together, it’s not as rocky a road as I anticipated.”
It also has advantages. If Whippet players have a beef, they usually ask Leah to act as an intermediary—a role she has willingly accepted.
“They’ll get Leah to ask me things because she’s not afraid to say anything,” Judy said.
Leah also has learned to deal with a nagging finish to last season when she missed a last-second layup in the team’s tournament-opening overtime loss to Lakeside Lutheran.
“I went to other games later in the tournament and people would come up to me and say ‘Aren’t you the girl that missed that layup?’ I would love to be in that situation with the game on the line again,” Leah said.
It might happen.
Whitewater is in a regional loaded with quality teams. In fact, the Whippets and Delavan-Darien (19-1) could be on track for a regional title showdown Saturday night. It would be their third meeting in less than a month, with the Whippets having a shot at a second win.
The Division 2 sectional, which will conclude at Janesville Craig, also includes No. 2 Columbus (20-0), No. 6 Richland Center (17-2) and No. 11 Lake Mills (16-4). That sectional, in fact, has produced four of the last six Division 2 state champions.
“It’s easy going into the tournament as an underdog,” Judy said. “It’s really hard to see it coming to an end. You couldn’t pick a better ending. I didn’t even know if we’d be a .500 team this year.”
But you can be sure the Harms family talked about it. A lot.