The Bangor High School girls basketball team utilized a core group of juniors last season to make it to a WIAA state qualifier for the first time since winning a championship in 1997.
A poor shooting performance stopped the Cardinals in the Division 5 semifinals, but they have a chance to put together another run at a title — or at least a run to the tournament at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
The return of senior powerhouse Emma Wittmershaus, a UW-Milwaukee recruit, is key after she averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a junior. She earned an honorable mention nod to The Associated Press All-State team.
The 6-foot-3 forward as been a factor for Bangor since her freshman season and scored 27 points to help it beat Shullsburg and earn its spot in last year’s state tournament.
“Our biggest key is going to be to obviously make her (Wittmershaus) a vital part of our offense,” coach Merlin Jones said of Wittmershaus. “The nice thing she does for us is very she’s very tremendous in her length.
“She’s a nightmare on the court matchup-wise for the opponents.”
Everyone who started with Wittmershaus also returns for Jones, whose teams with this group of seniors went 24-4 last season, 24-2 the year before and 24-3 in 2014-15.
Alea Fortier averaged 8.2 points and made 24 3-pointers to go with a 4.5 rebounding average, and Arianna Hundt posted averages of 8.1 points and 5.8 rebounds during their junior seasons.
Returning senior Jaclynn Freit averaged 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds, and classmate Haylee Leonard led the team with 27 3-pointers and averaged 5.2 points per game.
Although Bangor is returning all of this offense, there will be some pressure that accompanies the quest for another berth in the state tournament.
“With the bulk of our team coming back, there is pressure to repeat what we did before,” Jones said. “But at the same time we are also more comfortable with it, having the opportunity to experience what we went through before.
“We know what needs to be done, and we can see things that we can do differently.”
With a team as experienced as Bangor, there aren’t many things that have to be done differently. The Cardinals are planning to use their length and athleticism to their advantage while keeping their offense and defense similar to what it was last season, according to Jones.
Bangor averaged 61.2 points and held opponents to 35 last season while winning the Scenic Bluffs Conference for a third straight time. The Cardinals are 40-2 in the conference over the last three seasons and were 14-0 last year.
The four teams who beat the Cardinals — Stratford, Aquinas, Melrose-Mindoro and Loyal — all won at least 17 games and posted a combined record of 93-14.
Besides the experienced roster, the Cardinals are taking on another challenging schedule. Bangor plays Melrose-Mindoro on Dec. 5 and Aquinas at the La Crosse Center on Jan. 13.
“Our nonconference schedule is probably as tough as we could get it, but we’re very happy with that,” Jones said. “We have one Division 5 matchup. Otherwise, it’s all Division 3 and 4, which is outstanding for us.
“The teams we play nonconference is definitely going to play a role in how far we got, and I’m pretty honored to say those teams want to play us.”