Cheesemakers return to state
The Cheesemakers won WIAA Division 2 state championships in 2006 and 2008, and they will take a 23-2 record into Friday’s state semifinal game against Grafton (22-2) at 1:35 p.m. at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Although Keen’s teams are always well prepared and well coached, he said it’s the players who deserve the credit.
“It’s a case where we’ve been fortunate to have a level-headed bunch of girls come through our program that have just gone about their work,” Keen said. “They understand that you can’t look past anything, and the best thing to do is to make the most of what’s in front of you. For this group, that means Grafton.
“Every coach has his or her way of doing things. As a coach, it’s a matter of getting your players to buy into what you’re trying to get done and how you want to get there. I’ve been blessed in that regard.”
Coming off the school’s second state title in three years, the bar was set high for the 2008-09 team.
The Cheesemakers responded by starting the season 9-0. After back-to-back losses against Badger Conference opponents Sauk Prairie and Madison Edgewood in the middle of the season, Monroe is now on a 14-game winning streak in which its average margin of victory is more than 16 points a game.
Keen said the back-to-back losses resulted in the team elevating its play, starting with a convincing 65-36 win over Oregon—a Division 1 sectional semifinalist.
“With our tough conference and overall schedule, I don’t think anyone thought we were going undefeated,” Keen said. “In fact, a couple of games I thought we might lose, we were able to win.
“The biggest one was when we played Freeport (Ill.). They came in ranked second in the state (and finished second in last weekend’s state tournament), and we played our best half of basketball against them and ended up winning by 11.”
Junior forwards Ashley Hermanson and Jamie Armstrong lead the Cheesemakers with a 12.7 and 12.2 scoring average, respectively, but all five starters average more than six points a game.
With 6-foot-2 Armstrong and the 6-0 Hermanson controlling the post, the Cheesemakers are outrebounding opponents by a better than 2-1 average. The team has also made 95 three-point baskets, including a team-high 29 by Emily Rufenacht—the only senior in Keen’s 8-person rotation.
Although the Cheesemakers are making their seventh state appearance, including their third in the last four years, Friday’s opponent, Grafton, is no stranger to the state meet. The Black Hawks are making their fifth state appearance and third in a row, including a state title in 2007.
Senior forward Sarah Eichler is the top scorer in the Division 2 field—averaging 21.7 points per game.
“They’re a lot like us in the fact that they play a lot of Division 1 teams during the season,” Keen said. “And they have that state experience.”
But do they have that secret formula that seems to be working so well for the Monroe Cheesemakers?
Tune in at 1:35 p.m. Friday and find out.