The Melrose-Mindoro High School girls basketball team has yet to be beaten this season.
That could have changed on Monday, Feb. 26, in a regional final against Eau Claire Regis, but more on that later.
The Mustangs (24-0), ranked second in Division 4 by the Associated Press, bring a list of strengths with them every time they hit the court. They have height, depth and a mentality that is capable of bringing them to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
On Monday, however, the Mustangs’ season was on the line as they narrowly escaped Regis in a hard-fought 52-49 regional final. That set up a showdown with No. 3 Durand on Thursday, March 1. After battling with Regis, Melrose-Mindoro coach Joey Arneson expected another intense game with Durand, a school with a long tradition of power girls basketball teams.
“They’re (Durand) an outstanding team so we have to play a very good game,” said Arneson, who is in his ninth season coaching the Mustangs. “Our focus is to do what we do well and get as many possessions as we can.”
The Mustangs have been doing a lot of things well heading into the tournament. One thing Melrose-Mindoro has that many, smaller-division schools do not, is height. With 6-foot-1 sophomore Mesa Byom, 6-foot sophomore Emily Herzberg, 5-foot-10 junior Erika Simmons and 5-foot-8 sophomore Calette Lockington all being key players, the Mustangs typically don’t see teams that match their height, according to Arneson.
Also, some new-found depth has helped the Mustangs excel. With a strong core group of starters and experienced players on the bench, Arneson is getting used to a level of depth that he hasn’t had in past seasons.
“We have nice depth which adds a new dimension that we aren’t used to having,” Arneson said. “It’s so much nicer as a coach to be able to rely on the girls coming off of the bench. It’s been very nice to see the girls come in and all contribute.”
Even though the team has attributes that can help lead it deep into the season, there were still a few things that Arneson wanted to work on to ensure an extended schedule.
Taking higher percentage shots and strengthening its man-to-man defense was made a top priority heading into tournament play, Arneson said.
“Overall we’re very balanced and can get scoring from all five positions … but we want to take more higher percentage shots and improve our man-to-man defense,” Arenson said. “The offense is fun to watch but it’s the defense that can win games and win championships.”
As the Mustangs move closer to a coveted state-tournament appearance, so do the nervous feelings that come with being able to nearly taste it for the first time. Helping calm those nerves is a strong mentality, according to Arneson.
“The girls are definitely more nervous now than at the beginning of the season but once that ball is thrown up in the air for tip off, they calm down,” Arenson said.
“They certainly have a different mentality and they’re much more focused. The girls work hard in practice and they want to make it to state. They want to go to Green Bay and play in the state tournament.”
“It’s so much nicer as a coach to be able to rely on the girls coming off of the bench.” Mel-Min coach Joey Arneson