Titletown: Phoenix want another trophy
Of course, they had to share the spotlight with their more-famous neighbors. After the network showed a brief live shot of the Phoenix and their cheering fans, it quickly cut away to footage of quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrating the Packers’ Super Bowl victory.
That’s life as the “other” contending team in Titletown, and senior guard Celeste Hoewisch doesn’t mind a bit.
“It’s a winning tradition here in Green Bay, with the Packers and with our team as well,” she said. “So I think it’s kind of cool.”
The Packers aren’t the only show in town. Despite giving away plenty in terms of size, status and budget—its undergraduate enrollment is approximately 6,350—Green Bay is out to prove it belongs in the conversation with big-time programs in the women’s game.
Green Bay went 32-1 this season, its only loss coming by three points at in-state rival Marquette in December.
They won the Horizon League tournament by beating Butler on Sunday. They’re a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and will begin play Sunday against Arkansas-Little Rock in Wichita, Kan.
“I feel like in the last couple of years, we’ve been gaining more and more respect from the committee and teams around the nation,” senior forward Kayla Tetschlag said. “How cool is this? Just a bunch of local kids coming together and showing that Wisconsin has great girls basketball. What a thrill for all of us to go out and play against some of the best players in the nation.”
Green Bay didn’t quite come out of nowhere. This is its 12th NCAA tournament, with its first appearance coming in 1994 and its first victory in 2003.
Still, the Phoenix are something of a secret outside their home state. While their recruiting base is expanding, all five of their expected starters on Sunday are from Wisconsin.
“I would go to battle with these girls against anybody in the country,” Hoewisch said.
Fourth-year Phoenix coach Matt Bollant is taking what was a respectable program to the next level.
“It’s pretty special,” Bollant said. “But Green Bay is a very special place, and this program’s had a strong tradition.
And we’ve just continued to build on that and try to take it a step farther every year.”
Last year, Bollant talked to his players about representing mid-major teams and they beat Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“Now I don’t think people look at us as a mid-major,” Bollant said. “They look at us as a great basketball program.”
That said, athletic director Ken Bothof hopes people appreciate how unique it is for a school the size of Green Bay to climb high in the polls and make the tournament as a
No. 5 seed.
“To be in that grouping of schools we are mentioned in every week, it’s a special season,” Bothof said. “32-1, I think people have high expectations for our program. This is really special. This isn’t going to happen all the time.”
Fans who haven’t seen them play yet should expect a team that takes pride in passing and tough defense.
“They move the ball as well as any team that I’ve seen,” Bothof said. “When they’re playing well, their ball movement is tremendous. And they don’t turn it over.”
Green Bay players believe making the round of 16 is a realistic goal, and want to go even farther.
“This team is very special and very capable of doing anything,” Hoewisch said.
The difference this year: They’re expected to.
“We’re kind of seeing the flip side of it this year, not so much being the underdog,” Tetschlag said. “But we’ve kind of been dealing with expectations all year long. That bar was set really high, even at the beginning of the year.”
Just like it was for the Packers, the team most Green Bay players turn to for inspiration —but not all of them.
“Now we’re starting to get some Illinois and Minnesota recruits,” Tetschlag said. “We’re not completely Packer fans on our team. But to be associated with the team who won the Super Bowl, who plays the game the way it should be played, is really exciting.”
Last updated: 2:16 pm Thursday, December 20, 2012